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What You Should Know About Pre-Surgical Psychological Evaluations

Pre-surgical evaluations are standard practice for several types of surgeries. Three common procedures requiring these evaluations are:

  • Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants (SCS)

  • Bariatric Surgery

  • Organ Transplants (for recipients and donors)

These evaluations aim to help identify suitable candidates for surgery and increase your chances of success post-surgery.

Your mental and emotional health play a crucial role in your overall health— including the success of your surgery. Although some people feel nervous or uneasy about the evaluation, it’s not intended to cause you stress. It’s simply one step in the process of getting your total health picture before surgery and enhancing your success during the post-surgery adjustment.

Requiring a pre-surgery assessment doesn’t mean your surgeon has concerns about your mental health. Instead, it helps them identify your strengths and risk factors and find areas where you could benefit from support after your surgery.

The psychological evaluation has two parts: an interview and a mental health test. You meet with a psychologist or other mental health professional for an interview that focuses on behavior, mental health and your understanding of the surgery. This is your opportunity to ask questions and to clarify anything you are unsure about.

You may have concerns or questions that are outside of the expertise of your surgeon. For example, you may be worried about how your family will function while you’re recovering or about the financial impact of missing work after surgery. Talking to your psychologist about these concerns gives them the opportunity to share some insights or teach you techniques to ease your apprehension.

When you’ve had your questions answered, next, you’ll complete the psychological testing. This test provides an objective measure of your readiness for surgery.

It’s important to keep in mind that:

  • The person conducting the evaluation is a qualified mental health professional, and your information is kept confidential.

  • It’s essential you fully understand how your life will be different once you’ve had the surgery. You’ll need to follow your post-surgery lifestyle changes carefully.

  • The test is not pass or fail. It’s not intended to exclude you from surgery or make it more difficult for you to get it. Instead, it’s a tool to help your surgeon and medical team understand your mental health history and determine ways to help you have the best outcome after your surgery.

  • It’s possible for those with substance abuse or mental health disorders to achieve good outcomes with expert management from a mental health provider.

After the evaluation, many patients report how valuable it was for them to discuss their thoughts, feelings and expectations about the surgery and how their life will change after the surgery.

For some, completing the assessment and test is enough and no further support is needed. But it’s common to need or desire additional psychological support or counseling to maintain the lifestyle changes essential for long-term success after surgery.

Lifelong adherence to a post-surgery regimen can be difficult and is often complex. Depending on the procedure, it may, for example, involve taking multiple medications on a precise schedule, self-monitoring and reporting on physical signs and symptoms. Despite the potentially serious consequences of not following the prescribed regimen and lifestyle changes, it’s not uncommon for people to deviate from their required routine. This tendency toward inconsistency tends to increase over time and leads to poorer outcomes.

Having someone you can confide in that supports you on your road to recovery, helping you through the changes and challenges in your life can make all the difference.


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