You’ve had intermittent sharp pain in your abdomen for 24 hours. The max dosage of Tylenol isn’t touching the pain. Though you haven’t checked your temperature, you’re certain that you have a fever. Nausea has set in, and you’re curled up on your bed praying for relief. A voice in the back of your mind is telling you to go to the hospital, to see a doctor, aka physician. But that thought is even more terrifying than the pain you’re in.
If the thought of seeing a doctor leaves you reeling with anxiety, you may be suffering from iatrophobia (pronounced [eye-a-trah-fo-bee-ah]). It’s not specified under the DSM-V but could fall under the diagnoses of F40.232 — Fear of Other Medical Care. It is also closely related to White Coat Syndrome & sometimes referred to as Latrophobia (which is a fear of doctors and hospitals).
Research shows that there are 5 major categories explaining why people are afraid of doctors:
Many people can pinpoint an exact experience that led to their fear of doctors. Perhaps it was a doctor they saw as a child who lacked empathy and a true ability to work with children. It’s possible during a visit they were given painful shots that were seared into memory. A strep test, uncomfortable examinations, or simply equating a doctor visit with illness can lead to anxiety and a fear of doctor appointments in general.
These traumatic situations can lead to an avoidance of physicians. The longer you avoid the object that you fear, the more anxiety you’ll experience when you must face it. The opening scenario clearly demonstrates fear and anxiety at the thought of seeing a doctor — even though it’s medically necessary.
My family has personally lived through their own bout of illnesses. My father has had many surgeries: getting his gallbladder & appendix removed as well as neck surgery & a knee replacement. Many other health complications have led him to weeklong stays in the hospital. To this day, the smell of a hospital brings up memories of visiting him in the hospital.
If you have experienced surgeries, have been in an accident, or have dealt with serious illnesses you may equate doctors with what you’ve experienced. You only see doctors when something is terribly wrong. The thought of an appointment can lead to a tailspin of emotions — what if I’m terribly sick again? What if my worst fears are coming true? You avoid the appointment because you can’t bear to relive the past.
In this study, numerous people reported a lack of rapport with their doctor. They felt that their physician did not communicate well, or left them feeling stupid and unintelligent. Some reported being berated or belittled for not following the advice they were given. Or they simply felt that their concerns went unheard & that their doctor wasn’t truly interested in their well-being.
To become a licensed Physician you must go through extensive schooling & residency where you gain experience in multiple fields until you decide on a specialty. However — even with all that training — doctors are not beyond mistakes. If you’ve been misdiagnosed in the past it can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Or you’ve heard horror stories of things gone wrong in surgeries or treatment. Whatever the case, you may have a general distrust and disbelief that your physician can accurately treat you.
What if your ongoing symptoms have no explanation? What if you work up the courage to schedule an appointment only to be barraged with endless tests and theories, but never an explanation. Or, on the flipside, you imagine your doctor presenting you with the worst case scenario — you have cancer or another debilitating illness. In your mind, it’s better to leave it unknown than face the terrifying truth.
Perhaps how doctors are portrayed in television have influenced the way you think about the profession. Here are some notable T.V. doctors:
Here are 4 steps to getting over Iatrophobia:
What can you do when your children are afraid of doctors? Follow these steps:
For more advanced treatment for iatrophobia, you can explore counseling. A therapist will meet with you and develop a personalized treatment plan based on your history and current concerns, then hold regular sessions to help you address any issues you are having. You can search online to find a qualified professional near you.
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