When your doctor isn’t supporting you and your needs, here are some ways you can advocate for yourself.
You may have experienced medical gaslighting if you’ve ever gone to a doctor with serious symptoms and heard that you just need to learn to manage your anxiety, that your symptoms are psychological, or that you’re overreacting.
Gaslighting refers to a situation when one person causes another to question their sanity or competence without good cause.
In the case of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, this can take the shape of a doctor convincing a patient that their symptoms aren’t a big deal, that they’re being oversensitive, that side effects from medications aren’t a real concern, or that they’re causing their own flare-ups even when they haven’t done anything wrong.
In short, it’s when a doctor is dismissive of concerns or places undue blame on a patient.
This can lead to misdiagnosis or a lack of proper treatment. It can also lead patients to stop seeking care and to experience symptoms longer than necessary.
If you begin to believe that your symptoms are “all in your head” or that you should be able to toughen up and deal with your symptoms better because the doctor blew it off, it can make you doubt your own perceptions.
Sometimes, doctors might be intentional about belittling their patients and minimizing their concerns, and some may operate from a place of ignorance. Either way, if you have psoriasis and don’t feel like your doctor is taking you seriously, you can advocate for yourself in several ways.
The clearest solution is to find a new doctor who will listen and believe you. That’s not always easy, though, especially if you live in an area where specialists aren’t abundant, or your insurance doesn’t have many options.
If trying someone new is a possibility for you, understand that you don’t need to stay loyal to a doctor who isn’t helping you.
Keep a symptom diary to show how often and how long your symptoms persist, how severe they are, how they limit you, and anything you’ve tried to help. When you have flare-ups, take photos to show your doctor or upload them to your patient portal.
The itching, pain, and appearance of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can range from a minor annoyance to a major, life-altering condition that limits your everyday life. If a doctor is treating it like the former, but it’s really the latter to you, then you need to do what you can to help the doctor see how much it affects your life.
It can feel intimidating to question doctors or disagree with what they say, particularly because you’re supposed to be able to believe that doctors know what they’re talking about.
But you’re the one living in your body with your condition, and doctors get things wrong sometimes. It’s appropriate to tell a doctor when you feel they’re misunderstanding or treating you incorrectly.
Bring a friend or family member with you to appointments when possible. Aside from the help they can provide by helping to ask questions and remember details for you, they can also act as backup for you if a doctor attempts to brush off your concerns.
If you ask for treatments or tests that a doctor doesn’t want to provide, or you feel your concerns aren’t being properly addressed, ask the doctor to document things in your patient notes. The act of having to write things down can make a doctor more careful. They understand that a paper trail can lead to complaints or lawsuits.
If you’ve done research and you want to try a particular treatment, or you think you’ve figured out something about your diagnosis or related symptoms, print out your evidence and bring it with you. Understand that this needs to come from reliable sources, like medical journals and associations, psoriasis foundations or associations, conference presentations, and major news or health publications.
Social media posts, supplement manufacturers, and health influencers without medical degrees aren’t reliable sources of information about psoriasis or treatment.
Let’s say you feel your psoriasis is severe enough to need biologics, and your doctor doesn’t agree. It’s appropriate to ask what the next steps are: What happens if you try whatever the doctor suggests and it doesn’t work? How long are you expected to wait for results? At what point will the doctor move on to another treatment, and what would that next treatment be?
It’s up to you to decide if it’s reasonable to wait or whether to seek out a doctor who will treat your condition more aggressively.
Sometimes, it takes a little reflection to realize you feel gaslit. If you went along with what a doctor said during an appointment but later felt that your concerns weren’t addressed, reach out again. Either call and ask for the doctor to call you back or write out your thoughts on the patient portal.
If you’ve been harmed and can’t come to a satisfying resolution with your doctor, consider filing a complaint with the office manager at the practice, the state’s health department, or the state’s medical board.
Medical gaslighting is a common phenomenon, so if you’ve gone through it, you’re far from alone. You have the right to be heard and to receive appropriate medical care for your psoriasis, so keep trying until you get what you need.
Jenna Brooks, who has inverse psoriasis, is the author or ghostwriter of 35 books, including Celine Dion’s authorized biography. She frequently writes about health and disabilities.
Medically reviewed on July 27, 2023
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