Deep Fear of the Doctor
Would you rather live with pain and discomfort than visit a doctor? Do you Google all your symptoms and worry you have a disease with a dismal prognosis, but still you can’t digest the thought of seeking help?
Visiting a doctor is never fun. How could it be? We only go when we’re sick and usually only receive bad news. The sight of needles, the smell of blood, the pain and discomfort that follows examinations, and the awful tasting medication they prescribe—any or all of these could trigger your phobia. But we go anyway. After all, survival is instinctive. And doctors help us to heal.
But what happens when fear and anxiety are so overwhelming that we just can’t bring ourselves to go? Do your hands tremble when you need to dial the number to your doctor’s office? Does your throat close up? Do your legs shake? Do these symptoms make you decide you’re better off self-diagnosing and self-medicating?
You most likely have iatrophobia or a fear of doctors. And that’s alright. After all, everyone is afraid of something. But you also know that seeking medical help is unavoidable. So how do you get past your fear? Understanding and acknowledging your phobia is an important step. Learning a little more about iatrophobia will also help you rationalize what you feel, why you feel it, and how to overcome your fear of doctors.
What Is Iatrophobia?
Iatrophobia is the intense fear of doctors. While iatrophobia involves doctors specifically, there are other phobias involving the medical community. Nosocomephobia is the fear of doctors and hospitals, and dentophobia is the fear of dentists. Some people with a less intense fear of doctors are said to have White Coat Syndrome. All these phobias have one thing in common: doctors.
What Causes Iatrophobia?
Several experiences could have led to the gradual increase of a fear-of-doctors phobia. Perhaps you visited a doctor expecting to learn that your persistent cough was a lingering flu but discovered that it was something much worse. Did a family member or friend recount a traumatic experience that left you trembling? Did you watch one too many doctor television series or spend too much time focusing on news about malpractices? Any of these examples could have instilled a negative image of doctors and left you questioning whether doctors can treat you accurately.
The bedside manner of a physician might have also come into play. Did you encounter one with a presumptuous and dismissive attitude? Did a physician dismiss your concerns about being predisposed to diseases like diabetes, cancer, Huntington’s, etc., because your family has a complicated medical history?
Whatever your reasons, they instilled in you a fear of doctors. A little introspection could help you identify the root cause. And like any problem, the cause needs to be pinpointed before you can find a solution.
What Are Iatrophobia Symptoms?
Depending on the severity, symptoms of iatrophobia or fear of doctors can include some or all of the following:
- Trembling or muscular tension
- Nausea or feeling like throwing up
- Running, screaming, crying (small children)
- Raised blood pressure levels or hypertension
- Flight or fight response
- Constantly canceling routine medical exams and postponing appointments
Coping Strategies for the Deep Fear of Doctors
What Self-Help Methods Can You Use?
Despite what some may say, your fear is real. Your physical and psychological symptoms may escalate when you encounter the source of your fear. If you’re reading this, chances are you may wish to be free of this cause of stress and anxiety. Try the following suggestions to calm yourself when your iatrophobia is triggered.
Gone are the days when waiting rooms meant reading outdated magazines or staring at walls and imagining the worst. Use your phone to distract yourself. Induce a feeling of calmness and normalcy by reading emails or surfing through social media sites. Play some soothing or calming music (use earphones, please) while you wait your turn at the clinic. These might settle your fears.
Many clinics and hospitals now have websites that feature their doctors. They explain which medical school the doctor attended, how many years of experience they have, and even share reviews from patients. Before you make an appointment, research the doctors available to you, and pick one with the expertise and training that makes you comfortable.
What Professional Help Can You Get?
If you’ve tried everything and found that you still cannot bring yourself to see a doctor, it might be time to seek iatrophobia treatment from a professional. If you can convince yourself that a therapist is not the same as a doctor, you might find this step easier to take. Counseling is a good start as speaking with a professional can help you understand your fears. They can also guide you and help you address issues. Take baby steps if you wish and speak with a trusted family member first. That should prepare you for therapy sessions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT sessions are helpful in the treatment of phobias as they replace negative thoughts with positive, more realistic ones.
Exposure therapy has proven to be effective when treating patients with phobias. A professional will expose you to the things you fear, in this case, doctors. They do this through related images or videos. The premise is that confrontation in a safe and controlled environment will reduce the intensity of the phobia when it is triggered. Add coping mechanisms, and eventually, your tolerance level for your phobia will increase. These therapies might even bring your fear down to a level where you don’t feel like it controls your life.
What Else Can You Do?
Some doctors provide internet-based or phone-based consulting, while others are open to making home visits. A little research will help you find a doctor that offers alternatives to clinic-only appointments.
Find a Clinic that Serves Children
If certain appearance-based elements trigger your fears—such as white coats and white, sterile walls—find a clinic that also serves children. They’re more likely to have brightly painted walls. You could even speak with your doctor about dressing less formally or not wearing the white coat during your consultation.
Share your Phobia
Doctors strive to make their patients comfortable. You could share your phobia with your doctor and ask if they’d allow calming music during the examination.
Googling your symptoms can go one of two ways: either your results will show you that nothing is wrong, or your results will bring up graphic photos and symptoms to match. Neither will help your case if you have a deep-seated phobia.
Phobias are common, and almost everyone is fearful of something. You are not alone in your predicament, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. A happier, stress-free, and less anxious life awaits you as soon as you’ve decided that you are ready to face your fear.