Andrew L. Martin, PsyD
Disliking going to the doctor is pretty common. About one third of all adults have avoided doctor visits that they knew were necessary.1 About 25% of older adults report avoiding medical visits2. So why don’t we go get the help we know we need? Common reasons include1,2:
-Discomfort with body examinations
-Fear of having a major illness
-Medical visits raise uncomfortable thoughts about death
-Believing doctors cannot help
-Feeling the doctor does not listen
-Preference for self-care or alternative care
Fear of having one’s body examined can be a sign of posttraumatic stress disorder, and can be helped by trauma-focused psychotherapy. Also, our personal values sometimes make body examinations difficult. Talking about it with a mentor or a trusted faith leader can help us sort out our feelings, and make such examinations more acceptable.
Why do we think the doctor will give us terrible news? It’s normal to fear the worst – it’s part of how humans survive – we’re always on the lookout. But sometimes we’re too much ‘on the lookout,’ and worry too much about what could happen. At those times, it’s best to remind ourselves of the actual odds of bad events. For example, most medical visits do not result in a serious or fatal diagnosis, especially if we go for help early.
If fear of death is keeping us from visiting the doctor, it may be a sign of unresolved bereavement. Maybe we lost someone close to us and are still coming to terms with their passing, making it hard for us to think about illness or death. If that is the case, talking with a bereavement counselor or a trusted faith leader can help.
In most cases, we can choose our doctor or healthcare provider. So if you feel your provider isn’t listening or isn’t helpful, exercise your right to switch. Also, let your provider know that you have concerns. They are typically understanding, and may be able to change something to help you connect better. Research shows that people who feel their doctor is understanding are the best at following medical advice.3
If we have some bad health habits, we may fear a ‘lecture’ or judgment from our provider. While providers will certainly advise us how to live healthier, most are not judgmental. Doctors practice medicine because they care about people, and want to help, not to pass judgment or criticize.
Good self-care and alternative care does exist, and is sometimes a legitimate alternative to traditional medicine. To make sure you’re choosing the best option though, use reliable information sources like the National Institutes of Health, WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, and Mayo Clinic. Their teams have reviewed all the research so you don’t have to, and they provide nice summaries.
The most important thing is your health, and you may have to take a risk to get help, but you’ll probably be glad you did!
1Kannan, V. D., & Veazie, P. J. (2014). Predictors of avoiding medical care and reasons for avoidance behavior. Medical care, 336-345.
2Leyva, B., Taber, J. M., & Trivedi, A. N. (2020). Medical care avoidance among older adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 39(1), 74-85.
3Moore, P. J., Sickel, A. E., Malat, J., Williams, D., Jackson, J., & Adler, N. E. (2004). Psychosocial factors in medical and psychological treatment avoidance: The role of the doctor–patient relationship. Journal of health psychology, 9(3), 421-433.