If you deal with a disability or chronic illness, you almost certainly know what it’s like to be disbelieved. From loved ones to strangers, it seems like everyone has an opinion on your condition, and many of them are just plain wrong. This disbelief can come in many forms, from people who think you’re “faking it” to those who think your condition is nothing more than an inconvenience that can be fixed by using essential oils, drinking more water, or fitting in some yoga classes. When these reactions come from doctors, they can become medical gaslighting.
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What is medical gaslighting?
Medical gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that is used by doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to manipulate patients into thinking that their symptoms are not real, that they are making them up, or that they are psychiatric problems. It is a particularly insidious form of abuse because it can lead to patients becoming distrustful of their own intuition and their own body, and can cause them to doubt their own sanity. It could even be an unconscious reaction—a healthcare provider may not recognize the harm they’re causing.
Medical gaslighting can take many forms, but it often involves denying patients the correct diagnosis, downplaying their symptoms, or accusing them of being hysterical or of having a mental health problem. Healthcare professionals may also give patients false information, or tell them that their symptoms are not serious and will go away on their own. Patients may be told that their symptoms are the result of stress or of taking too many medications, or they may be told that they are just imagining things.
Medical gaslighting can have a devastating impact on patients, leading them to doubt their own judgment and to question their own sanity. It can also lead to a loss of self-confidence and to a feeling of helplessness. In some cases, patients may even become suicidal.
If you feel that you are being gaslighted by your doctor or another healthcare professional, it is important to speak up and get a second opinion. You may also want to consider talking to a therapist, who can help you to deal with the emotional effects of gaslighting.
I recommend and personally use Talkspace therapy!
My experience with a dismissive doctor.
“Medical gaslighting” has been something of a buzzword lately but, overwhelmingly, it was one I hadn’t experienced myself. I’ve had my share of bad doctors (a story for another day) and plenty of disbelief in general but, since I’ve started treatment for chronic migraine, fibromyalgia, and my other concerns, my healthcare experience has been largely positive.
I use PlushCare for visits with my primary care provider and am so lucky to have an incredible GP!
That is, until recently. With a referral in hand, it was finally time to see a relatively local specialist rather than my normal provider. The symptoms I’m experiencing are pretty severe, so this was a big deal!
Without going into too much detail about the conditions ruled out and tests undergone, we didn’t have much in the way of answers. It was the moment we spoonies know all too well: my results appeared normal overall. I’ve encountered this before and, while frustrated, knew it wasn’t necessarily the end of the process.
The specialist, though, had another idea. Their formal recommendation was for me to be more active, drink enough water, and return in nearly a year to see how things were going. Obviously, this is nowhere near the severity of dismissal, discrimination, and medical gaslighting some disabled patients have reported. Still, it’s oh-so discouraging, especially after discussing the severe fatigue I’ve been facing.
Women are especially at risk of experiencing medical gaslighting.
There is a long-standing history of discrimination and bias against female patients and patients of color in the medical community. Studies have shown that female and BIPOC patients are more likely to be dismissed by medical professionals, receive poorer treatment, and be undertreated for serious health conditions. From the collective experience of spoonie communities, it’s clear that disabled women and disabled patients of color face yet another layer of disparity in accessing medical care.
These disparities are due, in part, to the institutionalized racism and sexism that exists in the medical community. White male doctors often have a hard time seeing patients of color as anything other than their disease. They may not take into account cultural differences in disease presentation and treatment. And they may not be aware of the unique challenges that BIPOC patients face when seeking medical care. Of course, they aren’t alone in mistreating patients–female doctors and healthcare providers of any race can perpetuate these biases, even unknowingly.
It’s obvious that the medical community at large needs to recognize and correct these forms of discrimination. All patients should be treated fairly and with respect. But what do we do in the meantime?
Dealing with a Dismissive Doctor
Disbelief and dismissal are frustrating, demoralizing, and often downright hurtful. It can make you feel like your condition is something to be ashamed of, or that you’re not “really” sick. Worse still, it can make you feel like you’re the only one going through this. But you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world deal with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and we know all too well what it’s like to be disbelieved.
When you’re dealing with a dismissive doctor, it can feel like you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle. No matter how much evidence you have, or how well you can make your case, it seems like your doctor is always ready to write you off.
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this. There are plenty of other patients out there who are struggling with the same thing. You can find support and understanding from them, and from other sources on the internet.
How can healthcare providers better support their patients?
If you are a healthcare provider, you undoubtedly have patients with disabilities and chronic illnesses. It is important that you support these patients by, first and foremost, believing them.
Many patients with disabilities and chronic illnesses feel like they are not believed by their healthcare providers. This can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing. It is important to listen to your patients and take their concerns seriously.
Believing your patients is the first step in providing them with quality care. Patients need to feel that they are being heard and that their provider is taking their illness seriously.
If you are a healthcare provider, make sure to prioritize the needs of your patients with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Believe them, listen to them, and provide them with the care they need and deserve.
You can support your patients by being there for them. All too often, medical providers seem to shrug off patient concerns when there are no clear answers. Instead, do as much as you’re able to and express your support. If you’re frustrated by the lack of answers, let them see that.
But most importantly, let them know that you’re there for them. They need to know that they’re not alone.
How can you deal with medical gaslighting or being dismissed by a doctor?
When you’re the patient, it often feels like you’re on your own. You’re juggling doctor’s appointments, treatments, and a million questions with little support. If you’re dealing with a dismissive doctor, you may feel like you’re not being heard or taken seriously. It’s important to remember that you have a right to get the care you need, and you should speak up for yourself.
There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most from your doctor. For instance, make sure to write down your questions and bring them to your appointment. This way, you won’t forget anything and you can be sure to get all of your questions answered.
Some questions you may want to ask include:
- What is the cause of my problem?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the risks and benefits of each treatment option?
- How long will the treatment take?
- What are the side effects of the treatment?
- How often will I need to come in for follow-up appointments?
- How much will the treatment cost?
- Will my insurance cover the cost of the treatment?
- What should I do if I have problems after treatment?
- Can you refer me to a specialist?
- Do you have any brochures or other information about my condition?
- Can you recommend any websites or other resources that I can use?
Advocate for yourself.
You may want to try to find another doctor who will take your concerns seriously. If that’s not possible, you may need to advocate for yourself. This means being assertive and clear about what you need from your doctor. You may also need to be prepared to take charge of your own care.
Speak up if you don’t understand something your doctor says. Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you understand what’s going on.
If you don’t understand something your doctor says, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask questions until you understand what’s going on. This is your health we’re talking about, so you should be as informed as possible. If you have any other questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to bring them up with your doctor, either.
Make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions. This is essential to getting the most out of your care.
Do your part.
So long as the treatment they recommend isn’t harmful, following your doctor’s instruction is a show of good faith–it makes it clear to the whole care team that you’re putting in the effort, even when you’re dealing with these added roadblocks.
Seek a second opinion.
If you’re not comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis or treatment plan, seek a second opinion. It’s important to feel confident in your doctor’s abilities and to trust their recommendations, but it’s also important to make sure you’re getting the best possible care. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about them.
If you are unhappy with the care that you are receiving, talk to your doctor. Let them know what has been bothering you and see if there is anything they can do to improve the situation. Hopefully, your doctor wants you to be happy and healthy, and they may be able to find a solution to your problem.
It’s possible that a doctor may come off as dismissive while having a bad day. Remember, they’re human too, and often under extreme pressure. However, if it happens repeatedly, there’s clearly a more serious problem.
If you’re ever in a situation where you feel like your doctor isn’t listening to you, many patient advocates suggest that you take matters into your own hands. One way to do that is by verifying that they mark this refusal in your visit notes. This will help to protect you in case you need to seek medical help elsewhere down the road. Some doctors will quickly change their minds at this moment, too.
Remember, you have a right to get the care you need. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and speak up for your health.
Find a new provider.
If you’re finding that your doctor is consistently dismissive and unhelpful, it may be time to find a new doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends for recommendations, or to do a quick Google search to see if there are any reviews of local doctors. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when health insurance, location, and other factors limit your access.
When you do find a new doctor, be sure to communicate what your concerns are. It’s important that your doctor understands the full extent of your symptoms and is able to provide the best possible treatment.
Try to keep a positive attitude, even when things are tough. Remember that you are the expert on your own body and that you know what’s best for you. Keep fighting for the care that you need, and don’t give up.