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How Psychologists Contribute to Bariatric Patient Success

Courtney McCuen-Wurst, PsyD, LCSW, and Maija B. Bruzas, PhD

Maija Bruzas, PhD, and Courtney McCuen-Wurst, PsyD, LCSW, licensed psychologists and members of the Penn Bariatrics team, share how the field of psychology contributes to the Bariatric program at Penn Medicine.

Expert Knowledge on Weight and Eating Difficulties

Psychologists at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders are an important asset to the medical team and invaluable to the success of our patients.

Psychologists who work with bariatric patients typically have training in health psychology, as well as more specifically in weight and eating difficulties.

We know what health behavior changes are required for optimal weight loss after bariatric surgery, as well as the mental and emotional impacts that surgery can have on patients.

We also have knowledge about what mental health difficulties can interfere with post-surgical weight loss and mental and emotional wellness, and how to help patients overcome those difficulties.

Help Prepare Patients for Bariatric Surgery

As part of their preparation for bariatric surgery, patients meet with center for Weight and Eating Disorder psychologists for pre-surgical psychological evaluations which assess behavioral readiness for surgery and stability of mood symptoms.

In doing this, we help patients problem-solve various issues they may be experiencing to improve post-operative success. We work collaboratively with the medical team to advocate for patients and their long term success in achieving their health and weight-loss goals.

As psychologists, our goal is to make sure patients are in a good space mentally and emotionally, so that they can handle the large lifestyle and physical changes that come with bariatric surgery. As part of the pre-surgical evaluations, psychologists may:

  • Suggest strategies patients can practice to improve his or her mental and emotional health if he or she is experiencing mild depression, anxiety, or eating disorder symptoms.
  • Require patients to start psychotherapy or begin medication before bariatric surgery if they are experiencing high levels of depression, anxiety, or eating disorder symptoms and are not already seeing a psychotherapist or psychiatrist.
  • Provide referral information for specialty mental health clinics if a patient is struggling with smoking cessation or significant eating disorder symptoms.

Another purpose of the evaluations is to assess the patient’s social support level, environmental stressors, and significant upcoming life changes. We make sure that the patient has identified support people who will provide them with emotional and instrumental support after surgery.

If the patient has considerable work, school, or family stress and doesn’t have the time or mental or emotional resources to focus on health behavior change, the psychologist may suggest delaying surgery until a more optimal time.

Long-term Support for Long-Lasting Success

Some research has shown that post-surgical bariatric patients develop mood symptoms, such as depression, that may be related to physiological consequences of having bariatric surgery and the various health and lifestyle adjustments needed to adhere to the post-operative lifestyle.

By conducting psychological evaluations before surgery, we are able to problem solve these possibilities and provide patients with resources for support, as well as coping strategies, to deal with negative emotions and behaviors the patients may experience after surgery. Psychologists are also a resource for patients after surgery if individual therapy is needed to better adhere to the post-operative lifestyle.

patient-psychologist relationship is important because the psychologist gives the patient tailored recommendations that optimize a patient’s long-term physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

We help patients learn relevant skills to positively change behaviors and connect them to resources that will support them during the major changes that surgery presents.

About this Blog

Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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