Are You Afraid of Doctors?

Do you shake in your boots at the thought of seeing a doctor? Do you go out of your way to keep from seeing one? If so, you are not alone. Many people, especially those with mental health challenges, fear doctors.


This piece will concentrate on the fear of doctors, what causes it, and how you might overcome your phobia of white coats.


Why A Fear of Doctors?



The fear of doctors is known as iatrophobia and means that people have an extreme fear of physicians and medical tests. People with iatrophobia often will refuse to seek medical or mental health help even when they are very ill.


Iatrophobia affects 1 in 3 Americans and is sometimes very dangerous. This phobia affects not only children but also adults. Some people who suffer from illness anxiety disorder (IAD), once known as hypochondria, are more likely to form a fear of doctors.


However, people who have a controversial mental health condition such as dissociative identity disorder (DID) develop a fear of doctors for good reason. Many folks who have DID have faced doctors, both mentally and physically, who do not believe in their diagnosis or worse, believe that all people with mental health challenges are liars about their symptoms.


Medical Gaslighting



Medical gaslighting is a huge problem with doctors treating people with any mental health disorder especially DID. Medical gaslighting is when a healthcare professional downplays or ignores the symptoms of their patient or client and instead tries to convince you that your symptoms are caused by something else or are imagined.


Why wouldn’t people who have mental health challenges ignore their health and not go to the doctor when they should? Their fear is grounded in reality.


Medical gaslighting takes many forms and can be subtle and not easy to see. You should watch for these red flags:


  • The doctor interrupts you continually and doesn’t appear engaged in what you are saying.
  • The doctor refuses to discuss the symptoms you are reporting to them.
  • The doctor refuses to order imaging or lab work to rule out or diagnose a disease or other syndrome.
  • The doctor blames your mental health condition for your symptoms. However, you are not given a referral to a mental health professional or screening for the illness they say you have.
  • The doctor is rude, belittling, or condescending.


For instance, Mary who is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder goes to the doctor because she has been suffering from a cough that will not go away. The doctor enters the room and after listening for a few minutes to Mary’s complaints, tells her she needs to drink more water. When questioned, the doctor becomes agitated and leaves.


Mary is later diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) a disease that will exacerbate quickly if not treated and could lead to early death.


Mary was medically gaslighted.


To overcome a medical gaslighter, one must not allow a doctor to get away with treating you so badly. They are paid to diagnose and treat your symptoms, not to belittle you. If they gaslight you consider seeing a different doctor.


If you feel the doctor is somehow redeemable, go over their heads to their administrator and report their behavior. While it is doubtful, reporting the doctor may not have any effect on how the physician behaves, but it will perhaps change how they treat others in the future.


White Coat Syndrome



Sometimes, a fear of doctors is translated into physical manifestations. One such indication is white coat syndrome. White coat syndrome, aka white coat hypertension, is a term that means that you get high blood pressure readings in your doctor’s office when your readings at home are normal.


Unfortunately, white coat syndrome can lead to people being treated for high blood pressure when they do not have it. This treatment can be dangerous causing you to have fainting spells or worse, shock. Low blood pressure can also cause dangerous falls.


People who are more likely to have white coat syndrome include:


  • Those over 50
  • People who were assigned female at birth
  • Obese people
  • Those who do not use tobacco products
  • Those who have a mental health diagnosis and have had a bad experience with a medical professional


There are some things you can do to help yourself feel more relaxed that can bring your blood pressure down to normal levels.


Develop a good relationship with your physician. Try to get to know your doctor better by talking with them and discussing your fear.


Bring a list. List your questions so that you are not as anxious about forgetting to ask them about something. It is also helpful to list your symptoms.


Allow yourself time. Allow more time to get to your appointment so that you can sit and chill before you go to see your doctor.


Ask to have your blood pressure taken at the end of your visit. Doing so will give your physician a much better understanding of your baseline blood pressure.


Find a different provider. If your doctor makes you anxious and you cannot resolve it, then it is time to find a different physician.


Overcoming a Fear of Doctors



Since you have most likely had a bad experience with a doctor in the past, getting over the fear of seeing one is challenging. Being open and frank with your physician about what you have experienced with another doctor can help relieve some of the stress you may feel.


You can also make your appointments during days and times when you know you will be less stressed out. A good time might be for you early in the morning before work, not after work when you are stressed and tired.


You can take a family member or friend with you. Doctors may be more reluctant to gaslight you if there are witnesses. A friend or family member might lower your anxiety while you sit in the waiting room and can accompany you to your appointment if you wish.


Try to do some deep breathing while you are waiting. Breathe in slowly through pursed lips and out slowly through your nose. Repeat this procedure until you feel calmer and in control.


Don’t forget that you are the master of your body and that doctors are just people with a piece of paper stating they are a physician. Doctors are not gods and have no right to treat you badly.


Ending Our Time Together


You are afraid of doctors for a reason as they often hold the keys to life and death in our lives. Doctors are authority figures that have the power to make us feel bad or good about ourselves.


Keep in mind that when you visit a doctor’s office you are paying for a service. You, as the customer, have a complete right to expect to be treated with dignity and respect.


If you can remind yourself each time you go to the doctor that you are in control of your life and body, you will be less likely to be afraid of your physician.


“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” William Osler


“The physician’s highest calling, his only calling, is to make sick people healthy – to heal, as it is termed.” Samuel Hahnemann






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