Getting Some Therapy for Surgery Stress

Emotional distress can impact patients undergoing surgery and last six months or more

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Surgery is stressful. The anticipation before and the recovery process after can trigger further depression, anxiety and even alcohol use disorders in people with mental health issues.

A recent study surveyed surgical patients about emotional distress prior to undergoing surgery and again six months after having surgery.

“It is striking how persistently high depression, anxiety, general psychological symptoms and alcohol problems remained for patients with an interest in psychotherapy – even six months after the surgery,” said the lead author.

"Talk to a therapist if you’re feeling distressed."

Henning Krampe, PhD, a psychologist from the Charité Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine at University Medicine Berlin in Germany, studied 1,157 surgical patients. Patients filled out surveys and questionnaires to assess emotional state and alcohol habits before surgery and again six months after surgery.

Each patient was also asked, before surgery, if they were interested in psychotherapy to help cope with the stress of undergoing surgery. A total of 17 percent of patients expressed interest in participating in psychotherapy. These patients showed higher levels of distress before and six months after surgery, compared to patients not interested in psychotherapy.

Patients interested in psychotherapy were also younger on average, 49 vs. 53 years of age, compared to those not interested. More women were interested in psychotherapy than men, 127 females versus 66 males.

Dr. Krampe said, “This stability of distress in a wide range of psychological disorders would suggest that it is not a question of temporary worries and stress due to the operation, but rather of chronic psychological symptoms requiring psychotherapeutic treatment.”

Authors recommended, “Screening for psychological distress, brief motivational interventions, as well as early supportive interventions for transiently elevated perioperative distress can be performed by a psychologically trained nursing staff.”

Nurses could also set up appointments for those who still wish to see a psychotherapist.

In a related and ongoing study, researchers used computers to help with pre-surgical screening for patients wishing to contact a psychotherapist.

This study was published in December in PLOS ONE. Funding was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG). No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 17, 2012
Last Updated:
December 19, 2012