• Psychotherapy for Post-Surgical Patients in Providence RI and Psypact States

    Helping people navigate emotional changes such as depression and anxiety after surgery.

    Recovery from surgery isn’t just about physical healing; it encompasses emotional healing as well. And both types of healing complement each other.  Emotional wellness can lead to faster physical recovery, and physical recovery can accelerate emotional recovery. Except no one seems to talk about emotions such as depression and anxiety that may arise after surgery.  Are you grappling with feelings of anxiety, helplessness, fear, or sadness post-surgery?

    Do you wonder why your emotions are all over the place while recovering from surgery?

    Are you feeling particularly vulnerable?

    Are you having bouts of crying or mood changes that seemingly come out of nowhere?

    There are so many post-surgical patients who struggle with unanticipated mood changes in the days, weeks, or even months after surgery.  Much of the time, these potential emotional changes are not addressed by the surgeon’s office or physical therapy. Granted, while it is not up to the surgeon or physical therapist to provide psychotherapy, at least being able to screen individuals would be helpful so if a problem arises, they can be referred.  But if unanticipated, you can find yourself wondering why you’re struggling.  I hear so many people following a surgical procedure express that they feel alone and are hesitant to bring it up to anyone because they feel it may not be “normal.”  Or they feel as though their significant other or other family members are becoming perhaps impatient with their recovery.

    Why do some people get depressed after surgery?

    Post-surgical depression, also known as postoperative depression, is a psychological state that can occur following a surgical intervention. While its symptoms align with those of typical depression, its onset is linked to the surgical experience itself. Individuals grappling with post-surgical depression can find themselves overwhelmed by feelings of profound sadness.  You may, for example, feel teary, or unprepared for pain that can sometimes be unrelenting. There may be a sense of hopelessness, asking yourself if you made a mistake by going through with this surgery and wondering if the pain is ever going to stop. You might also possibly feel less self-worth, as though you can’t do even the simplest of tasks. You may feel more irritable thinking, “My surgeon/family/boss don’t understand—what’s wrong with them?!” There is usually fatigue from fighting the pain and just not being able to sleep comfortably.  Also, activities once cherished may lose their appeal, even when you are physically able to resume them.

    An individual sitting on a hospital bed holding a surgery cap. If you suffer from anxiety or depression after surgery, I can help you in psychotherapy for post-surgical patients in Providence, RI! Call now.

    Can surgery trigger anxiety?

    It most certainly can. Read on….

    Why is my anxiety so bad after surgery?

    Postoperative or post-surgical anxiety represents another possible psychological aftermath of surgery. While bearing a resemblance to other anxiety disorders, postoperative anxiety is distinctively triggered by the surgical event. It encompasses a range of apprehensive emotions, ranging from mild unease to debilitating fear. You may feel a lack of control over your recovery (which is not a straight path). Even obsessive thoughts or nightmares can accompany this state of heightened anxiety. Other symptoms may be more physical, like a racing heartbeat, profuse sweating, and gastrointestinal distress.

    What are the key factors leading to emotional changes after surgery?

    Postoperative depression and anxiety can be quite challenging for individuals recovering from surgery. You may wonder why exactly is this happening?  There are several potential reasons why these changes may occur:

    • Physiological stress: Surgery is a major trauma to the body. It is thought that this trauma can cause inflammation in the brain, leading to a temporary inability of our neurons (nerve cells) to fire correctly and communicate with each other. This in turn can affect brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which are important in mood regulation.
    • Anesthesia: While anesthesia is a necessary part of the surgery, it can sometimes cause temporary cognitive impairments like “fogginess”, memory difficulties, and again, mood changes.
    • Feelings of Loss: Also, surgery can, in many instances invoke feelings of loss. You might feel a temporary loss of independence and agency. Or loss of control.  It’s such an odd feeling to expect a limb to move or bend and have it not cooperate. Also loss of identity whether you are an athlete who cannot participate in your sport, a parent or grandparent, who cannot interact with children/grandchildren in the way you typically do, or you find you are unable to carry out the duties of work and professional responsibility.
    • Pain, Discomfort, and Suffering: I’ve spoken to many a person, and experienced myself, the profound suffering resulting from pain. Although pain is a natural consequence of surgery, it can be unrelenting, exhausting, isolating, and uncontrollable.  This can lead to feelings of isolation, particularly in the middle of the night, where sleeping or even getting comfortable can be impossible.  And sometimes lack of perceived progress can be frustrating and contribute to suffering.  This process of rehabilitation and healing in the early (and sometimes later) stages of recovery, again is not linear, meaning that there is not necessarily a relationship between time, effort, and healing.  Recovery is more like a gnarly winding road, sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill, and sometimes going around in circles, losing your way, and then finding your bearings.
    • Medication Side Effects: Some medications commonly prescribed during and after surgery for pain management can have side effects that contribute to mood changes. For example, opioids and muscle relaxants can cause drowsiness, confusion, and mood swings, which may make depressive symptoms worse.
    • Changes in Body Image and Function: Depending on the type of surgery, individuals may experience changes in their physical appearance or abilities, which can impact self-esteem and body image (those scars from knee replacement can look mighty scary at first). Adjusting to these changes post-surgery can contribute to feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and anxiety.
    • Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions: Individuals who have pre-existing depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders could be more vulnerable to experiencing post-surgical depression and anxiety. The stress of surgery and recovery can exacerbate existing symptoms or trigger a recurrence of the disorder.
    • Social and Environmental Factors: Recovery from surgery often involves changes in daily routines, limitations on activities, lack of sleep, and increased dependence on others for support. These disruptions to one’s normal life and social interactions can also contribute to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and stress, which may contribute to depressive symptoms.

    Why do you need therapy after surgery?

    I’m a clinical psychologist who recently (January 2024) had both knees replaced at the same time. Even though I’m a trained professional, the emotional duress hit me like a ton of bricks.  And I knew full well beforehand it was a typical response and could happen!! (Read my blog posts about my journey through knee replacement hell). I get it. And I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered recovering from surgery experience some sort of emotional upheaval afterward and feel like there is something “wrong” with them until they can be reassured that this is a very normal part of their recovery process.

    I can assure you 100% that you’re not alone.  You may just need emotional support (yes, in addition to physical therapy and surgical check-ins). I personally and professionally understand the profound impact surgery can have on your emotional well-being and can provide a supportive environment where you can navigate these emotions and heal faster.

    In addition to providing psychotherapy, I’m working with healthcare providers to at least offer screening questionnaires to see if an individual needs resources. It’s essential for surgeons, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and other providers to be aware of the potential for post-surgical depression and anxiety and to provide appropriate support and resources to help individuals cope with these challenges during the recovery process. This may include individual or group therapy, medication management, pain management strategies, and social support networks.

    What is therapy after surgery called? Seeking relief in Providence, RI

    Therapy following a surgical event is simply known as post-surgical or postoperative therapy.

    What is postoperative therapy?

    My therapy approach is tailored to address the unique emotional challenges that often accompany the recovery process after surgery. You will learn scientifically supported, effective skills to help you cope with difficulties you have been experiencing. I recognize that every individual’s journey is different, so I customize our therapy sessions to meet your specific needs and concerns. Research shows that psychotherapy will help you learn to positively change your thinking, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. Some aspects of therapy include:

    • Empathetic Support: At the core of psychotherapy is the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client. This relationship serves as a foundation of trust and collaboration. I’m an experienced psychotherapist who provides empathetic support as you navigate the emotional rollercoaster of post-surgical recovery. As I mentioned above, surgery is a trauma to the body that can have profound effects on how you think and feel.  I will provide a safe space for you to express your feelings and concerns without judgment. Through compassionate listening and understanding, I can help you normalize and understand your emotions and develop coping strategies to navigate this challenging time.
    • Psychoeducation and Skill-Building: Therapy also involves educating you about the emotional impact of surgery and equipping you with evidence-based coping strategies. You will learn to identify and manage difficult emotions such as anxiety and depression and lower stress levels through various techniques including relaxation exercises (deep breathing, learning to relax muscles, visualization and imagery), mindfulness (learning to stay in the moment by performing short, doable meditations), and cognitive-behavioral interventions (challenging thoughts that may have become distorted or not useful, and replacing them with more realistic alternatives). By acquiring these skills, you’ll become empowered to navigate the ups and downs of recovery more effectively.
    • Promoting Emotional Resilience: Beyond managing immediate challenges, therapy aims to foster long-term emotional resilience. This involves helping you recognize your inherent strengths and capabilities, even in the face of adversity. Through exploration and reflection, we will cultivate resilience skills such as problem-solving, adaptive coping, and self-compassion, which not only aid in recovery but also in facing future life stressors.
    • Support for Caregivers: Recognizing that surgery impacts not only the individual undergoing the procedure but also their caregivers and loved ones, therapy extends support to this broader network. Caregivers can receive guidance and resources to navigate their own emotional experiences, addressing issues such as caregiver stress, burnout, and communication challenges. By addressing the needs of caregivers, therapy promotes a holistic approach to recovery, acknowledging the interconnectedness of emotional well-being within relationships.
    • Collaborative Goal-Setting and Progress Monitoring: Therapy operates within a collaborative framework. That means you and I will work together to set goals and track progress. Through ongoing dialogue and feedback, therapy remains dynamic and responsive to your evolving needs. Regular check-ins and assessments ensure that therapy remains effective and relevant, allowing for adjustments as needed to optimize the therapeutic process.

    In summary, therapy for post-surgical recovery combines empathetic support, practical skill-building, resilience promotion, and education for caregivers to facilitate emotional healing and growth. By addressing the unique challenges of recovery within a supportive therapeutic environment, we will cultivate the resilience, strength, and understanding needed to navigate not only your immediate recovery but also thrive in the face of future challenges.

    What helps with anxiety and depression after surgery?

    Here is how you can make the best of your therapy experience:

    • Set Clear Goals: Before each session, take some time to reflect on what you want to achieve. Setting clear, specific goals will give both you and I direction and focus. Also, know that I can help you set goals and come up with a plan.
    • Be Open and Honest: Therapy is a safe space where you can express yourself without judgment. Over time it gets easier to be open and honest about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Honesty fosters trust and allows me to provide you with the best support.
    • Engage Actively: Therapy is a collaborative process. Engage actively in your sessions by asking questions, sharing your insights, and participating in exercises or activities suggested by me.
    • Practice Between Sessions: Apply what you learn in therapy to your daily life. Practice new coping strategies, communication skills, or mindfulness techniques outside of sessions. This reinforces your progress and helps you integrate therapeutic insights into your life.
    • Be Patient and Persistent: Therapy is not a quick fix; it takes time and effort to see results. Be patient with yourself and the process. Trust that progress will come with consistent effort and commitment.
    • Attend Sessions Regularly: Consistency is key to therapeutic progress. Attend your therapy sessions regularly and punctually. Missing sessions or canceling frequently can disrupt the momentum of your progress.
    • Provide Feedback: I rely on your feedback to tailor the therapy to your needs. If something isn’t working for you or if you have suggestions for improvement, don’t hesitate to communicate that to me.
    • Take Care of Yourself: Therapy can sometimes be emotionally challenging. Practice self-care outside of sessions by prioritizing your physical and emotional well-being. This may include getting enough sleep, eating healthily, exercising, and engaging in activities that bring you joy to the extent that your surgery allows.

    By following these tips and actively engaging in the therapeutic process, you can maximize the benefits of therapy and achieve your personal growth goals. Your dedication and commitment play a crucial role in your journey toward healing and self-discovery.

    An individual running on a rock path during sunset hour. If you are experiencing post-surgery anxiety, contact me today to begin psychotherapy for post-surgery patients in Providence, RI. I can help you heal!

    Common Reasons People Hold Themselves Back From Starting Therapy….

    “I don’t have time for therapy”

    Life can often feel like a whirlwind, leaving little room for self-care. Especially following surgery with the onslaught of physical therapy appointments, surgical check-ins, and other doctor’s appointments. But your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical health. That’s why I offer flexible online therapy that can fit seamlessly into your busy schedule. And if recovering from surgery you may have limited mobility and find it more convenient to attend virtual sessions from home. Wherever you feel most at ease, whether it’s at home, during a lunch break, after work, or even on weekends, I can accommodate your needs and assist you every step of the way.

    “I’m not sure if therapy will help”

    It’s completely natural to feel uncertain about therapy, especially if you’ve never tried it before. But rest assured, therapy for post-surgery anxiety and depression is a proven and effective way to address emotional challenges cultivate resilience, and improve coping skills. As previously mentioned, together we’ll work collaboratively to explore your concerns, uncover underlying issues, and develop personalized strategies for growth. Therapy is a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, and I’m here to guide you through it with empathy, compassion, and support.

    “I’m worried about the stigma”

    The stigma surrounding mental health can feel daunting, but it’s important to remember that seeking therapy is a sign of strength, not weakness. Your mental well-being is nothing to be ashamed of, and taking proactive steps to prioritize it is commendable. In our confidential and nonjudgmental space, you can freely express yourself without fear of judgment or stigma. Your journey toward healing is yours alone, and I’m here to walk alongside you along this journey, championing your courage and resilience

    In case I missed anything….more FAQs…

    “I’ve never talked to anyone. I’m used to handling things on my own. Aren’t people who go to therapy weak?”

    No way. Not at all. People who ask for help know when they need it and have the courage to reach out and face their difficulties. Everyone needs help now and then. In our work together, I’ll help you explore and identify your strengths and how to implement them to reduce the influence of the problems you are facing post-surgery.

    “What’s the difference between talking to you or my best friend or family?”

    The main difference is, that while a friend or family member can provide support and advice, a therapist has the training and experience to view the situation from a professional and neutral standpoint. A mental health professional can help you approach your situation in a new way. As previously outlined, I’ll teach you new skills, help you gain different perspectives, listen to you without judgment or expectations, and help you listen to yourself. Furthermore, therapy is completely confidential. You won’t have to worry about others “knowing your business.” Last, if your situation provokes a great deal of negative emotion, and you’ve been confiding in a friend or family member, there is the risk that once you are feeling better you might possibly start avoiding that person so you aren’t reminded of this difficult time in your life.

    “Why shouldn’t I just take medication like antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs?”

    Medication can be very useful and effective, but it alone cannot solve all issues and promote understanding. Sometimes medication is needed in conjunction with therapy. Our work together is designed to explore and unpack the problems you are experiencing and expand on the strengths that can help you accomplish your personal goals.

    “How does it work? What do I have to ‘do’ in sessions?”

    Because each person has different issues and goals for therapy, it will be different depending on the individual. I tailor my therapeutic approach to your specific needs. All you need to do is show up and I’ll lead the way.

    “How long does postoperative anxiety last? How long does postoperative depression last?”

    Unfortunately, this is not always possible to gauge. Everyone’s circumstances are unique.  In many instances, the length of time that allows you to accomplish your goals and feel better depends on your desire for personal development, your commitment, and the factors that drove you to seek therapy in the first place.

    “How do I cope with sports injury depression?”   And…. “how can I cope with not being able to exercise due to injury or surgery?”

    Your surgery may have been in response to a sports injury.  In some cases an injury occurring while engaging in a sport may require surgery. Coping with depression and anxiety due to a sport-related injury involves acknowledging and accepting your feelings, staying connected with supportive individuals, focusing on what you can control in your recovery process, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a positive attitude. It may be helpful to temporarily engage in alternative activities such as gentle stretching, walking, or swimming if permitted.  Staying patient and persistent throughout the recovery journey is also crucial. Remember to prioritize self-care, both physically and emotionally, and to be gentle with yourself as you navigate the challenges of injury and recovery. Rest and proper recovery are essential for a successful return to physical activity and will allow you to be back to full capacity in due time.

    Take the First Step towards Emotional Healing and Reclaiming Your Inner Strength

    Whether you’re grappling with the aftermath of surgery, recovering from injury, or facing any other emotional hurdles, know that you don’t have to navigate these waters alone. Therapy will offer a haven where your experiences are heard, understood, and respected. It’s a sanctuary where you can explore your feelings, unravel the complexities of your emotions, and learn valuable coping strategies. Follow the steps below to get started!

    1. Contact me with any questions or to schedule your first appointment.
    2. Learn more about what I have to offer at Aim for Change. 
    3. Discover how psychotherapy for post-surgical patients can help you find relief from anxiety and depression.