“Gaslighting” by some doctors can undermine the chronically ill
By Carolyn Degnan
One of the biggest problems that chronically ill patients face is “gaslighting” from their physicians/practitioners. I’ve been familiar with that term when talking about a personal relationship.
However, I had never heard it applied to a doctor/patient relationship until I heard it used during the LymeMind 2020 conference. I was struck by how appropriate the term is to describe an abusive practitioner relationship.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that causes someone to question their memory, perception, and sanity. (The expression originated from a play–then movie–called “Gaslight.” The word is now commonly used in the field of clinical psychology.)
Gaslighting in a personal relationship is usually when the abuser is a narcissist. The abuser denies, lies, minimizes, and undermines whatever it takes to plant seeds of doubt and confusion in the victim of his abuse.
When a physician practices gaslighting, the physician makes the patient feel like he/she is imagining their symptoms and then they tell the patient that he/she is depressed and needs anti-depression drugs.
Gaslighting happens to many patients, but it is most likely to happen to females with such conditions as chronic pain, sickle cell anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic Lyme disease.
The reality is that the patient is NOT crazy and not all physicians gaslight–but the physician who does gaslight either:
1) doesn’t know how to treat the patient’s symptoms/disease or
2) has been taught by a national medical society to discourage and not treat this “type” of patient.
The only way for a patient to “win” is to walk away from that physician—but that also leaves the patient once again without any treatment and sometimes any hope of getting better. It may be hard for the patient to find another practitioner to work with them, because now the patient has been labelled as “difficult.”
How do we help prevent gaslighting for the patient population?
- Physician education about the disease is key
- By empowering patients to know their rights to walk away from toxic physician relationships
- Encourage support groups for every disease
- Most importantly, promote physicians who are caring and do not gaslight their patients.
LymeDisease.org strives to provide names of qualified Lyme-literate practitioners through our Physician Directory. Many of them are members of ILADS (International Lyme and Associated Disease Society). Others are listed at the recommendation of a patient based on their experience with the practitioner or are listed at the behest of the practitioner.
Information garnered from MyLymeData, our patient-driven research study, shows that most Lyme patients who have improved substantially have been treated by a Lyme-literate practitioner.
Having a Lyme-literate doctor doesn’t guarantee that the patient won’t be gaslighted. But you have a much better chance of having a positive experience if the practitioner is educated on the disease.
Carolyn Degnan is Chief Operating Officer of LymeDisease.org. She recently blogged about “What I Learned From Having COVID-19.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.