Thursday, July 29, 2010

Face Transplants: Understanding the Effects on the Mind

Not so long ago, potential face transplants would have struck most of us as little more than an intriguing plot for a Sci-Fi film. But there have been several partial face transplants here in the U.S. recently, and earlier this week the first full face transplant recipient appeared for the first time in public at a press event in Spain

It's a brave new surgical world--one that enters psychological territory we've never tread before. When this amazing surgery is complete, how does one feel and what does one think, looking in the mirror to see a face that is not at all like the one he or she had before?

Authors Carla Bluhm and Nathan Clendenin explore the issues in Someone Else's Face in the Mirror: Identity and the New Science of Face Transplants (Praeger, 2009). They review transplant history from heart to genitals, as well as the medicine, literature, film, and media that show just how long humans have dreamed of the day when face transplants would be possible. The authors explain both the medical challenges and the victories along the way to successful face transplants and how in the future the surgery might be used to help more people, including our war-torn soldiers emerging from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The authors, based in the field of psychology, focus on the even less certain science of mental health issues that may arise involving identity. How much does your face matter to how you view yourself? What if your face changed completely? Would your perception of yourself change completely? One of the earliest face transplant recipients lamented, "It will never be me."

Professionals in the field and loved ones can stay one step beyond the fantastic medical science of face transplants, by understanding the relationship between identity and face, and how we may heal not just the body, but also the mind, after our most visible feature is lost and replaced with that of another person.

--Debbie Carvalko
Praeger Senior Acquisitions Editor, psychology and health

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