Iatrophobia (Fear of Doctors)
Iatrophobia is the irrational fear of doctors. People suffering from this condition may find it to be extremely difficult or even impossible to get treated by a doctor, even if it is just for a regular check up. Iatrophobia is among one of the more popular phobias, such as averophobia (fear of flying), kakorrhaphiophobia (fear of failure), and triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).
Many people are fearful of going to the doctor because they feel as though if they do go, then they will leave with a diagnosis. So, with this possibility trapped securely in the psyche of those suffering with iatrophobia, they may prefer to be ignorant of their body’s status quo than to become cognizant of any potential health risks that they may have.
People who don’t suffer from mental illness will often realize that if they go to a doctor to be treated or looked at then they may be diagnosed with something unsettling. However, they are often able to dissociate their fears with the reality that in order for them to attain better health, they will need to seek out treatment. So, with such logical maneuvering they are able to anxiously await for their name to be called in the waiting room of the doctor’s office.
Those suffering from iatrophobia may be unable to even drive near a doctor’s office due to their intense irrational fears. They may feel as though doctors cannot be trusted and are only motivated by self-interest or the interest of the success of the clinic/hospital. Though this may actually be the case, getting properly treated for your condition or illness may be life saving. So, we can clearly see the dangers that iatrophobia can manifest within the lives of those suffering from it (i.e. refusal to get treated for an ailment).
Symptoms of Iatrophobia
There are many different symptoms associated with iatrophobia to which the severity will often vary greatly from person to person. Nevertheless, looking past the minuscule specifics of individual variation, the irrational fear of doctors or of seeing a doctor reigns supreme among those experiencing iatrophobia. Someone with this illness may endure long bouts of pain or discomfort all because they are unwilling to get treated by a doctor.
They may also be well aware that they have a diagnosed disease, but may still choose to not receive treatment due to their irrational fear of doctors. For many of them, they may see doctors as “evil” or as “the bad guy”, as opposed to someone who wants to improve their health. This disconnect may mean that their ailment/disease will worsen overtime due to being left untreated.
Below, you will see some of the most common symptoms of iatrophobia:
Intense fear of doctors or of seeing a doctor
Anxiety when thinking of going to the doctor
Pretending to be healthy when sick
Ignoring signs of disease or injury
Refusal to see a doctor, even when needed
Believe doctors to be innately “bad”
Causes of Iatrophobia
There is no known cause of iatrophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may play crucial roles in the development of this condition. If you have a family history of mental illness, especially of phobias or other anxiety disorders, then you may be at risk for developing iatrophobia. However, the specificity of this phobia may lead one to think that the environment may play a larger role in the development of the specific fear of doctors.
Someone who has a predisposition to develop mental illness may develop iatrophobia because they had a traumatic experience as a child or young adult when seeing their doctor. They may have received a vaccine or gotten blood taken and had a terrible experience. Or perhaps they got diagnosed with a life changing illness and put some of the blame on the doctor. The reasons as to why someone would develop iatrophobia are among many and are likely to very greatly from person to person.
Nevertheless, the reality is there is not much known on the causes of iatrophobia. However, as with most mental disorders, genetics and one’s environment are likely to be significant factors. The causes for someone developing iatrophobia may be that they were merely predisposed for it genetically, they experienced some sort of traumatizing event, or both.
Iatrophobia Treatments (abridged)
What can be more ironic than this section of the article? An area devoted on how to treat a disorder characterized by not wanting to get treated for a disorder. As you may have imagined, there is no specific form of treatment designed to treat iatrophobia. However, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and medication (e.g. anti-anxiety) may be able to help minimize the symptoms associated with this phobia.
CBT would work by trying to get the patient to think differently about their fear of doctors, all while learning coping mechanisms when they experience symptoms. CBT or talk therapy may be a very effective form of treatment for someone with iatrophobia. In fact they may actually follow through with such a treatment willingly due to the fact that a great deal of therapists do not hold PhD’s. Thus, meaning that they are not doctors.
Exposure therapy may actually be a very effective method for treating iatrophobia. This type of therapy would work by slowly exposing the patient to a doctor to help desensitize them. This will often start off small by perhaps creating a mock situation where the therapist pretends to be a doctor or they may have the patient actually visit their own doctor to see how far they can get while using the skills they have learned from their therapist.
If you think you may have iatrophobia, then you should try to seek out treatment in some capacity. This doesn’t have to mean going to a doctor. You can first talk to a counselor or a therapist if you are too fearful of going to see a doctor directly. Seeing a psychotherapist or a social worker may be able to significantly help you to minimize your symptoms, especially if you can find one who has a lot of experience treating people with phobias.
Exercise for Iatrophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including iatrophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.
According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of iatrophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.
There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of iatrophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with iatrophobia over time.
Practicing Yoga for Iatrophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from iatrophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with iatrophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.
There are many different types of yoga that someone with iatrophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with iatrophobia.
If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of iatrophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Reducing Caffeine for Iatrophobia
It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with iatrophobia to experience panic attacks.
So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.
Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with iatrophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Iatrophobia
DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like iatrophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.
One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with iatrophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.
Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with iatrophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.
Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with iatrophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your iatrophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Psychiatric Medications for Iatrophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe iatrophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.
These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their iatrophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.
These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as iatrophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of iatrophobia.
These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of iatrophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Iatrophobia
CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with iatrophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.
CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with iatrophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with iatrophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.
Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with iatrophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Iatrophobia
MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from iatrophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with iatrophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.
Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of iatrophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Practicing Meditation for Iatrophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from iatrophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.
Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from iatrophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.
For someone with iatrophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.
To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of iatrophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.
Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with iatrophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Exposure Therapy for Iatrophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as iatrophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with iatrophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.
The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with iatrophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their iatrophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with iatrophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.