Can Extreme Fear of Doctors Be a Real Phobia?

child afraid of doctor

To others, a visit to the doctor is nothing but some annual routine for their health. But to some people, it’s a much-dreaded experience. So much so that they actively avoid going to the doctor. Making excuses and putting off the appointment indefinitely would be an automatic response, but underneath all of this is unproportionate anxiety and stress over a single harmless visit to the doctor.

Doctor appointments can be a hassle, routine checkups or not–from making the time for it in the middle of a busy schedule to dealing with the technicalities of your insurance. But imagine how this process is like for people who experience a great amount of anxiety when visiting the doctor. This excessive fear of doctors can also be known as iatrophobia.

With the rising importance and significance of the health field, a medical emergency center or an urgent care franchise seem to be lucrative ventures to get into. Even without the current health crisis, staying in good health is vital for overall survival. With this in mind, patients with iatrophobia may not be getting the medical attention they need. Because of their phobia, there may be some health concerns that aren’t addressed as promptly as they should be.

What Is Iatrophobia?

People in the medical field are aware of how nerve-wracking it can be being in the waiting room, waiting for your turn to experience a painful procedure. Although this isn’t how it typically goes, to some it feels likes this. Despite the best efforts of medical practitioners, no amount of comfort can ease the anxiety of these individuals.

It’s normal for people to feel anxious before a visit but what differentiates iatrophobia is from normal anxiety are the symptoms. With the latter, it’s a full-blown phobia. Although only a mental health expert can make the diagnosis, a tell-tale sign that a person has iatrophobia is their unproportionate anxiety towards doctor visits. The symptoms of this phobia include obsessive worrying, difficulty concentrating, feelings of panic and loss of control, excessive sweating, shaking, or crying in the examination room.

Visiting a medical office can be so stressful to the individual that it may even provoke white coat syndrome. This happens when the tension of going to the doctor raises your blood pressure significantly. But when checked at home, work, or any other setting, your blood pressure is normal.

fear of doctors

How Does a Person Overcome Their Iatrophobia?

Getting someone to overcome their extreme fear is difficult, but necessary. The phobia may delay help-seeking behaviors, even in the most crucial of times. Underlying and even pressing health issues may not be recognized or diagnosed earlier. Sometimes it takes a crisis or an emergency for these patients to accept the medical attention they need. Sadly, some of these medical emergencies could have been prevented if they were less fearful of seeing their doctor regularly.

What Patients Can Do

Patients with iatrophobia might have had some traumatic medical experience in the past that needs to be processed with the help of a mental health expert. But whatever the cause, it’s in their best interest to seek professional help. Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to the subject of the phobia will gradually change with the help of different techniques and coping mechanisms. CBT usually includes techniques found in the schools of behaviorism and learning theory, with some incremental steps to exposure to the subject of phobia.

This will be an uncomfortable experience, especially during the first few sessions. But bear in mind that this phobia has significant medical implications. It may hinder patients to get the treatment they need and deserve. Being able to recognize and tackle this phobia’s impact on physical and mental health will prove beneficial in the long run.

What Medical Professionals Can Do

Overcoming this phobia is a two-way street. If the patient does their part to be able to get the medical attention they deserve, medical professionals should remain attentive, patient, and respectful in their interactions with them. Although medical professionals have a general idea of how medical situations and settings can leave a patient to be anxious or fearful, it pays to know your patient well enough that a professional is aware of their condition. This will aid in the patient’s treatment later on.

In every doctor and patient transaction, rapport is often underestimated. A doctor-patient relationship has an impact on a patient’s attitude towards treatment options, adherence to treatment, help-seeking behaviors, and confidence in their medication. Having a good doctor-patient relationship doesn’t just help with easing the symptoms of iatrophobia, but it may even prevent the development of it too.

Phobia or not, sometimes patients feel unheard or like their best interest is disregarded. To prevent negative physical and mental outcomes, medical professionals should make use of rapport to effectively treat their patients.