The Psychiatrization of Consumers after Harm from Plastic and Cosmetic Procedures

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When plastic surgery goes awry, the person who is harmed often wants redress. But an all-too-common defense of the doctor is to label the harmed patient as having a mental illness. Doctors minimize and deny patients’ complaints and may even leverage misdiagnoses given by mental health and other professionals to ensure that patients receive a psychiatric diagnosis. This leads to the patient being perceived as untrustworthy and can protect the doctor legally no matter what iatrogenic harms have been committed. These dishonest practices aid in normalizing bad procedures and victim blaming.

Prominent psychiatrist Allen Frances, who chaired the DSM-IV task force, wrote in 2018 about this problem. “Mental disorders become the default position to deal with medical uncertainty. It’s widespread, and it’s dangerous.”

A woman holds her face; multiple reflections

Pam’s story

“I am speaking out because of something that was done to my son John, and Ava, a dear friend of mine. When John was a teen, he had a bad fall and was rushed to the ER. He was bloody, with his jaw pushed back, and worried about losing his teeth. A reconstructive surgeon was called. At first, we were grateful.

“John’s jaw had to be wired for six months. Each time he saw Dr. Striker, the surgeon, Striker pressured my son to have the slight bump on his nose shaved when the wires came off. Dr. Striker and his assistant—who was his wife—said they’d tell the insurance company John’s nose was broken in the accident so the insurance would pay. The doctor told my son, ‘girls will like you better with a new nose.’

“A surgeon also recommended unnecessary surgery to my friend. Several doctors told Ava to get a breast reduction for structural reasons. Dr. Bacote, (referred by her primary doctor), insisted he had to ‘add on’ a bit of liposuction to the side of her hip. Ava told him she was at her perfect, muscular, weight, and didn’t want scar tissue or risk. She had a bit of loose skin, not fat. Over months, Dr. Bacote coerced her.

“He said there’d be no weight loss, scar tissue, or changes to hormones, just a spot specific non-invasive smoothing. If she didn’t do it, he said, she’d look ‘unbalanced’ and end up right back on the operating table. She finally agreed. But instead of a slight smoothing, Dr. Bacote left large concave holes in dozens of unexpected parts of Ava’s body he had no business touching. She came to in untenable pain, bleeding excessively, with chunks of her body gone. Ava later learned about the adverse effects of fat removal. She experiences pain, and health and structural problems from the surgical intervention.

“My son’s and my friend’s cases are not about mere botched jobs. It’s something that was coerced, never wanted, or agreed upon. It is about waking up and seeing someone you don’t even know who does not even resemble you. This is mutilation. This is battery. It’s about the ongoing pain, illness, structural damage, and loss of income, social life, and career that often goes with medical harm.

“The patient pays the price for this field of medicine that normalizes and sells unnecessary, risky, and even scientifically proven bad, procedures. If you try to sue or even complain, you’ll be gas-lit and treated like you’re crazy. This was done to John, Ava, and many others.

“My son looked like a model. The doctor had no talent for the rhinoplasty he pushed on a scared, injured child. When the bandages came off, most of my son’s nose was gone. His airway was collapsed. John didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. His grandparents were worried he might kill himself. It never occurred to me that an incompetent person would be allowed to have a medical license.

“Dr. Striker sent bills for the part not covered by insurance. I said, ‘We’re not paying, we’re thinking of suing you.’

“The plastic surgeon, Dr. Neal, who did follow up reconstruction on John’s nose, was also shocked by the catastrophe the first surgeon caused, yet he was adamant he did not want to get involved in a lawsuit. He put a graft for the bridge, but John never looked normal or functioned remotely the same.”

Collusion by mental health professionals

Pam continues with her story:

“Dr. Neal referred my son to counseling with his wife, Liz, a therapist with an office in his building. Liz wrote articles for medical journals and contributed to a book about plastic surgery. She wrote about patients her husband sent to her, but she twisted their narrative around and called people like my son ‘surgical addicts.’ But that is not correct. John needed jaw repair, was groomed by Dr. Striker when he was vulnerable, then needed repair for that. I felt coerced into taking John to Liz to get Dr. Neal’s help.

“Dr. Neal admitted that serious harm and upselling by plastic surgeons is common. He called what was done to John ‘emasculating.’ He and his wife were vocal about how horrible the first doctor was.

“I had a lawyer who wanted to take John’s medical malpractice case, but Liz intimidated me from advancing with the lawsuit as the statute of limitations ran out. I took John to a psychiatrist, Dr. Amher, because John felt like the whole world was at war. I liked Dr. Amher at that time because he was the first to validate that John was responding to the trauma of being attacked.

“Dr. Amher knew Liz and Dr. Neal; he told me Liz had conflicts of interest: she was protecting her husband’s profession and she profited from writing about surgery patients. He suggested suing Dr. Striker, but by then it was too late. John was hospitalized, misdiagnosed, and treated horrifically in the psychiatric hospital. The cause of his problems was surgical battery, then minimization and gaslighting.

“Plastic surgeons make a fortune causing problems and patching up each other’s wrongs, though repairs are often not possible. Psychiatrists and drug companies also profit from medical harm. I took John to multiple psychiatrists after Liz falsely labeled him as a surgical addict. Each made a different diagnosis. ‘He’s fine, he’s traumatized—or, more often, he has a psychiatric problem and I’m going to prescribe drugs. You will have to come to me once a week, (at high-end prices), so I can prescribe.’

“Being depressed after being surgically assaulted, mutilated, and having your whole life stolen from you is a natural, normal reaction to a horrific violation, not a pathology to be medicated. My son was harmed not just by the original surgeon, but by the slanderous psychiatrization to invalidate him afterwards.”

End of Pam’s story.

Ava’s story

“I was petite and athletic with large breasts that caused problems including pain in my neck and back, and keratomas (skin tags) under the bra line. I declined this surgery for decades until the dermatologist who removed the keratomas told me to get the reduction while I was still young and healthy. I liked my breasts and didn’t want surgery, but I believed the multiple doctors who told me I needed the procedure.

“I asked Dr. Bacote, the surgeon, many valid questions. I was clear about my healthy, holistic lifestyle, high level of fitness, and caution regarding surgery. Dr. Bacote lied to me. He denied the physiological realities, and convinced me he was the surgical expert, (and artist), who knew what he had to do. He said I’d laugh after surgery and see that all my concerns were TOTALLY overblown. Then he assaulted me. His wife is his office manager, but they hid that. It’s a long story, but she was part of it.

“The physician who referred Dr. Bacote, (Dr. Karloff), refused to do a physical exam after the surgical assault, choosing instead to protect herself and Dr. Bacote.

“In response to the uncompromising pain caused by surgical battery, Dr. Karloff said that massage therapy and an antidepressant would get me through the worst of the pain, and then I would taper off the drug. I was happy, healthy, social, and successful when I went for breast reduction. My problem was structural mutilation, not depression. I was so desperate to experience less pain that I tried the drug; it caused bizarre and frightening feelings, tremors, agitation, and more. As time progressed, I realized that Dr. Karloff was colluding with Dr. Bacote to cover for both and paint me as a disturbed person. When I told Dr. Karloff of the grievous drug effects, she insisted I increase the dose and see a psychiatrist.

“Dr. Karloff did not document my severe bodily harm, extreme pain, and other problems caused by Dr. Bacote. Instead, she wrote that I was ‘anxious and whiny’. For legal purposes, if the assault or physical problems are not in the medical record, it ‘never happened.’ This is a legal veil to protect doctors. Dr. Bacote’s attorney used Dr. Karloff’s chart lies and omissions to help exculpate the surgeon in court.

“Dr. Karloff, (the only doctor I saw for months after the battery), refused to give me a common sleep medication to help me fall asleep in this pain. Instead, she referred me to a psychiatrist rather than a specialist who would examine my body since she refused to. The assault injuries rendered me dependent on rides, and the person I lived with listened to Dr. Karloff because they saw her as an authority figure. This person threatened to turn me out on the street if I didn’t take the medication.

“Dr. Cortez, the psychiatrist, misdiagnosed me and plagued me with eleven medications in three months. The drugs made me vomit, have gripping stomach aches, body zaps, headaches, ringing ears, hear double, and feel crazy and terrible in all aspects. Dr. Cortez screamed at me to stop calling her with problems her drugs induced, then she temporarily closed her practice, I assume to get rid of me as a patient. I had to go to another psychiatrist because I require the sleep medication to sleep in this pain.

“Dr. Fowler, the next psychiatrist, knowing that I was disabled and trapped in his office, forced me to talk about oral sex and other perverted topics unrelated to my situation. He said, ‘If you don’t answer my questions, I will withhold your sleep medication and put you on a drug to make you compliant. I will write in your file that you have behavioral problems.’ He prescribed a heavy SSRI, which I didn’t need. This caused the plethora of bad, bizarre feelings. There are no words to describe this entire living nightmare.

“Dr. Fowler’s son, also a psychiatrist, was indicted on sexual misconduct. Each psychiatrist charged about $300 per meeting to do their quackery. All I needed was a sleep medication from them.”

Getting away from the psychiatrists

Ava continues with her story:

“Finally, I got to Dr. Randolph, a sports medicine doctor / endocrinologist. He reacted like a normal human being, not a colluder or a predatory psychiatrist. He was shocked by the assault that was done to me and the abject failure of abusive doctors to act ethically. He said Dr. Bacote ‘butchered me’ and he recommended I get a medical malpractice attorney. He told me he would prescribe the sleep medication and get me away from harmful psychiatrists. He wrote, ‘Ava’s myofascial supporting structure have been perturbed and over-stretched in such a way as to lead to chronic pain.’ It’s like I’m on a torture board.

“By the time I went to Dr. Randolph, I had weaned myself from the unneeded psychiatric drugs. Once I was off these ‘bad effects in a bottle,’ I had myself back. Everyone saw the change.

“When Dr. Bacote learned I was filing a surgical battery lawsuit, he wrote to his cohort Dr. Karloff, ‘When Ava contacted us about a question about the insurance billing of the insurance portion of her surgery, her thoughts wandered to reference poor care/treatment, and our harming people. Obviously, this kind of thinking is worrisome, consistent with psychiatric illness, and factitious in nature. As I do not practice ‘psychiatry’, I wanted to apprise you of these recent observations on the phone. Perhaps you know of the psychiatrist who was/is treating her who may wish to have this information?’

“Since then, ten doctors demonstrated that Dr. Bacote did disabling surgical battery—against my consent or any rationale. They testified, ‘portions of Ava’s body are missing. This is clear-cut butchery.’ Also, since then, I have met multiple people who were harmed by Dr. Bacote and by his cohorts.

“Sadly, the court system and medical boards fail to bring justice. A reality TV surgeon, Dr. Harlowe, lied in my surgical assault trial. Harlowe is empowered by the medical board; the board is a puppet for the state medical association. The jury said they went with Dr. Harlowe because of his board affiliations. Dr. Harlowe protects other dangerous surgeons and has many desperate reviews written about him online.”

End of Ava’s story.

Becoming a patient safety educator

Personally, and professionally, my life has been centered on natural health: good diet and sleep hygiene, movement, meditation, massage, and more. As a licensed massage therapist, I gave over 30,000 hours of deep tissue massage. I was also a professional organizer and behavioral coach.

My clients often described how doctors, friends, and family minimized or denied their problems and blamed them. A spouse might exclaim, “think positively!” A doctor might tell an injured patient (or one in poor health due to a high sugar diet and other contributory habits) they had somatic disorder, or needed psychiatric medication or surgery, when massage, exercise, diet, and chiropractic care was the solution.

I’ve been on the receiving end of iatrogenic harm multiple times. An example is that an orthodontist forcefully tightened my braces, ignoring my plea for him to stop. This resulted in facial paralysis and hearing loss in my right ear. Luckily, I fully recovered, but meanwhile a doctor misdiagnosed me with Ramsay Hunt syndrome caused by shingles over the phone. This was not correct. I did not have a single shingles lesion, I tested negative for Epstein Barr, and most importantly, the orthodontist had hurt me, which I communicated, but this doctor chose to ignore me. Being injured by a medical professional then misdiagnosed may lead to a long-term false narrative and more mistreatment.

The medical-legal system serves and protects profiteers. Many parties are complicit. My educational goals focus on highlighting interconnections between plastic surgery, surgical mesh, and psychiatry.

The dark underbelly of plastic surgery

I researched iatrogenic harm from plastic and cosmetic surgery from 2012–2023. With the help of a team of medical professionals, a biochemist who researches leptin, coroners, and harmed consumers, I concentrated on scientifically proven harm caused by adipose tissue (AT) removal. I interviewed hundreds of people—mostly female—who experienced a spectrum of harm due to breast reduction and liposuction. A large amount of AT removal stories involve trauma, betrayal, denial, and lessened health.

Harmful plastic surgery procedures have become normalized over the last half century and it’s no wonder. It’s a colossal business. Some plastic surgeons in California and Florida invested in multi-billion-dollar firms that claim to promote Lifestyle Health Care; however, the firms’ selling points revolve around ‘empowering individuals to protect, control, and monetize their data.’ They focus on research and development of injectables, implants, liposuction and other devices, which risk life and wellbeing.

The official plastic surgery narrative does not match with the bad outcomes that science proves. A well-done liposuction study at the University of Colorado at Denver shows that after a honeymoon period, 100 percent of participants showed an increase in disease producing visceral fat by a year later.

Plastic and cosmetic surgery consumers are pressured and conned through strong advertising, misleading imagery, (such as manipulated before-and-after pictures, or short-term anecdotal results that are not indicative of the long-term), and falsehoods on websites that promote procedures and surgeons.

In 2019 I found desperate reviews for nearly all 55 members of the Los Angeles Society of Plastic Surgeons. One doctor was voted one of America’s best plastic surgeons in 2021, (and recommended by other plastic surgeons), but some patient reviews for him were scathing. There are many despairing reviews for founders of liposuction, authors of liposuction texts, developers of liposuction instruments, and a shocking number of members of state medical associations, professors, and TV doctors.

The Los Angeles coroner’s report shows 100 percent of people who died from liposuction (1999-2019) were female; average age <48 years old. 37% Caucasian, 30% black, 26% Hispanic/Latin, 4% Asian. Causes of death by frequency: fat in the bloodstream entering the lungs, blood clots in the lungs, heart attacks, bleeding to death, infections, anesthesia complications. Removal of adipose cells can lead to an increase in insulin resistance. There are private groups that report harm and death from plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery and psychiatric collusion

Countless harmed consumers blog that they’re emotionally worn out, can’t live with the pain, and were betrayed and assaulted, but the go-to narrative by inciting doctors, their lawyers, insurance companies, and medical lobbies, is to say that many post-surgical problems are “all in the consumer’s heads.”

Rather than calling out medical practitioners who create and perform procedures that are innately harmful due to the biology of fat, mental health professionals psychiatrize victims. Many harmed patients I interviewed were falsely diagnosed and given psychiatric drugs. Bad drug reactions were treated as pathology rending them powerless to make informed choices, move forward legally, or get real support.

I spoke with Maria Gmitro, President & Founder of Breast Implant Safety Alliance (BISA). She said, “Women suffering from issues related to breast implants are often victims of unintentional and intentional medical gaslighting which can lead to a missed diagnosis, improper treatment, and potentially worse outcomes to health, especially regarding breast implant-associated cancers, some of which are treatable if caught early. Many doctors are still uninformed or dismissive when the diagnosis is not clear, which is worrisome when patients report problems or symptoms.

“We have seen a trend in how this dismissive behavior can impact patients’ perceptions of the medical community, potentially diminishing their trust in doctors, resulting in a change in their approach to future medical care. It is a struggle for patients to get a diagnosis for a chronic illness, proven harder for women, and with breast implants, whether elective or not, there is stigma attached and often shame. The greatest impact is on a woman of color. Some plastic surgeons are heavily influenced by the profit-driven industry creating a conflict of interest and intentionally misleading patients.

“Public Citizen pointed out this messaging in the statement “Misleading Communications Regarding Breast Implant-Related Cancer to Be Removed From Websites of Leading Plastic Surgery Organizations.”

I also spoke with Amanda Savage Brown, PhD, LCSW, author of Busting Free, and mental health advisor for BISA, who said, “The minimization, denial, and gaslighting of patients who complain of harm from medical devices is reminiscent of the treatment of patients with football-related brain trauma. There’s potentially a lot to be lost by addressing their complaints. The psychologizing, however, is more akin to what we’ve seen with chronic fatigue and postpartum depression. There’s a long-standing history, at least in women’s health, of this harmful practice.”

Sasha Rodoy of the My Beautiful Eyes Foundation told me, “My 12 years of experience as a patient advocate has found medical gaslighting to be rife within the refractive industry. Doctors frequently tell their clients who cannot see properly that they have 20/20 [vision] and that their brain ‘needs time to readjust.’ This causes thousands of irreparably damaged people to doubt their own judgment, because surely the physician in a white coat with a stethoscope knows better.”

I know of men who used hair growth pills who were rendered impotent. People who had skin procedures are left with shrinking faces. All these people describe the same system of denial and gaslighting.

In an article about medical misdiagnosis, Dr. Diana Cejas, pediatric neurologist, said, “Sometimes a patient’s complaints seem outlandish and their symptoms impossible. But sometimes they’re right. Sometimes just listening to a patient can save their life.”

How disinformation is spread

A 2016 study shows the quality of information on liposuction online is poor. Existing sites are problematic. AT (fat cell) removal may lead to health problems including but not limited to metabolic syndrome, increased insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, fat embolus syndrome, and more.

Reality TV shows that focus on sensational stories about plastic surgery fuel the money-making paradigm by increasing trust in these high-profile doctors who perform harmful procedures.

Plastic surgery commonly leads to loss of quality of life, decline in health, disfigurement, disability, or death. John and Ava’s stories are the tip of the iceberg. I’ve spent over 11 years researching stories of bodies and lives that were fine before and now are destroyed and shattered; communities, and families, including children, are negatively affected too. A large percentage of the victims I met hide their despair.

As psychiatrists and others continue to misdiagnose and misperceive victims of medical harm, doctors deceive with online reputation management, and medical boards and legislators are puppets for medical lobbyists, big business wins and public health loses.

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The information presented in this article is not for personal medical or legal advice or instruction. All names used in Pam and Ava’s stories are pseudonyms.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. The fact remains, dentists and doctors take psychology courses and too many have weaponized their knowledge using it to convince patients to invest in unnecessary and detrimental procedures for their own betterment. Licensing boards acknowledge this fact and yet they act in concert to conceal their licensee dentists/doctors’ harmful, life threatening patterns by keeping them conditionally licensed deceiving the public they are being disciplined when they violate policy. With a priority, the licensing boards refuse to mandate all patients being informed at the time/place of treatment that they are being disciplined or their licensing status is conditional. Thank you Sasha. You share an abundance of vital information most consumers of dental/medical services are purposely not informed about. We have to have hope more people will follow this crusade to prevent the climbing number of uninformed consumers of dental/medical services being harmed year after year. Again, thank you for your commitment to public/patient safety.

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  2. I had a terrible experience when I turned 60.
    I’d been through a bad divorce and I decided to have a facelift to help me feel better about myself.
    The doctor talked me into doing a JFraxel laser procedure instead. She said it would be easier and less down time. Also less expensive.
    That turned out not to be the case because I was left severely burned! My eyelids kind of melted, and then I had chronic styes for over a year. To take care of that, the doctor prescribed steroid drops continuously, which lead to rapid cataract development. Now I need surgery for those.
    She denied being able to see any of the scars resulting from being burned.
    Other people see them though. I have many scars and discolorations from the procedure she pushed on me, and no recourse.
    I had my hair done at a new salon last month, and the stylist said “you have a lot of scarring on your forehead, maybe you should wear bangs.”
    And to think, I paid this physician! And I already know that suing would not get me anywhere. I honestly think she just wanted to practice her new laser on me.

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    • Hi Elizabeth, that is awful. In doing my research early on, I came upon a group of people who had been severely burned by lasers. They had a an informative website about harm from lasers up for years, but eventually took it down. The public doesn’t hear about these things because of the systemic coverups. It’s amazing how those who caused the problems just can’t see what everyone else can. Best wishes.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your story and research, Sasha. And as one who had a “bad fix” on a broken bone, covering up with psych misdiagnoses and malpractice. I have medical proof, in my medical records, that … indeed … the psych stigmatizations, and their systemic neurotoxic poisonings, are most definitely being used to cover up easily recognized malpractice, for the mainstream, incompetent, doctors.

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    • Thank you for sharing your experience. Covering up with psychiatric diagnosis and malpractice — typical. The medical notes are a problem in general. They are one sided, often fabricated, the consumer’s voice is ignored, and negligent doctors get away with terrible things. This is why I write about these topics.

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