Gaslighting has been a popular topic as of late with the term being dubbed “the word of the year.” 2022 saw a 1740% increase in lookups for gaslighting, with high interest throughout the year, according to Merriam-Webster. But why the sudden shift? Perhaps more people are being made aware of the act of gaslighting, which in some ways is good, but when you break it down, it still means that gaslighting is more prevalent than ever before. One of the most common forms of gaslighting includes medical gaslighting in which a healthcare provider makes you question your reality, or in this case your symptoms or conditions. Medical gaslighting can have harrowing effects on patients, impacting their mental and even physical health as 22 percent of respondents stopped seeking treatment for an ailment or condition as a result of being gaslit, according to the SHE Media 2022 Medical Gaslighting Study. This may not be the best method to take, especially if an ailment or condition requires constant treatment, but it is one that is understandable when all other avenues have been exhausted.
However, according to the same survey, there were other actions respondents took as a result of their experiences with gaslighting. These actions may help you if you’re in a similar situation, especially if you struggle with recognizing whether you’re being gaslit. “Like any emotionally abusive relationship, it may be difficult to determine when a once trusted relationship has become harmful,” Dr. Angela Corbo, Chair of Communication Studies at Widener University in Pennsylvania tells SheKnows. “Patients may feel powerless about their illness or treatment plan. We do not need to feel powerless in the relationship with the provider. Ask yourself, ‘how would you advise your parent, partner, or child in this situation?’”
Bring a friend or family member to your appointment
As a result of feeling gaslit by a medical professional, 35% of respondents have brought a friend or family member to their next visit. Dr. Corbo notes, “It is an excellent idea to have a trusted person with you at medical appointments when the doctor will review test results, treatment options, or life choices,” she says. “We are less likely to hear and fully process difficult news, but a support person can listen, take notes, and provide support during vulnerable medical moments. A support person can also observe the dynamic between the patient and medical provider to look for signs of gaslighting.”
Discuss the issue with a therapist or friends, and family
Thirty-two percent of respondents discussed feeling gaslit by a medical professional with friends or family. Similarly, 31 percent discussed the issue with a licensed psychologist or therapist. Discussing with a therapist or friend can be extremely valuable as it may help you better articulate your concerns to the provider. For example, saying “I believe you are a talented doctor but I have noticed that you have been rushed and have not addressed my concerns in the last few visits” gives you the power to correct the dynamic and the provider a second chance.
Dr. Corbo adds, “A therapist can be tremendously helpful for someone who may be experiencing medical gaslighting. The therapist can listen to the patient’s experience, role-play scenarios, and empower the patient to advocate for their needs. The patient needs to feel confident when asking questions and not be deterred by a doctor’s trivializing responses.”
Change your doctor
Of course, if that does not work or you are not comfortable with that approach, you should transfer your care. “Begin to look for other providers that are covered by your insurance plan and are within a convenient travel distance,” says Dr. Corbo. “You are not responsible for the provider’s feelings.” While it is difficult to walk away from any long-standing relationship where there was once trust and respect it is definitely an action that’s for the best in the long run. In fact, 28 percent of respondents followed this approach.
Record your next visit
Twenty-four percent of respondents chose to record their next visit as a result of feeling gaslit, which can also be an effective method in that it helps patients refer to what was said during a prior appointment and it may encourage doctors to be more communicative. However, it’s important to note that any audio or video recording requires the consent of all parties involved. “A doctor may be more selective of word choices in a recorded session,” says Dr. Corbo. “We live in a litigious society so the doctor may be influenced by this rather than how the patient is made to feel.”
File a complaint with management
Last but not least, patients can always file a complaint with the practitioner or senior management. Twenty-eight of the respondents chose to go this route. By taking this action, patients can ensure a doctor is reprimanded and does not treat further patients poorly. Thus, shedding light on how medical providers need to better navigate their role within a complicated health system. “Hospital administrators, insurance carriers, and other obstacles interfere with a medical provider’s ability to treat patients as they may like,” says Dr. Corbo. But there is hope yet. Healthcare workers are at least aware of gaslighting and its impact. And now, they have to work with patients to do something about it.
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