Why your doctors tell you it’s all in your head

I read hundreds of social media posts every week describing incidents just like this. A person with Fibro who has been suffering terribly and waited for weeks, even months for a doctor’s appointment is told, “it’s all in your head.” It is more than disappointing, it is humiliating. Why do doctors continue to say this, knowing that it is not only unhelpful but potentially harmful?

First of all, let’s look at what your doctor actually means by this. My guess is, what they mean to say is that you are somehow inventing your symptoms. In the doctor’s mind, if nothing shows up on the diagnostic tests, then it must not exist. There is no room for the possibility that we don’t have a test for that yet. The automatic assumption is that it’s not real. This is highly problematic.

But, in the current model of Western medicine, your doctor has absolutely nothing else to offer you (other than a handful of semi-effective, highly toxic drugs). So, the answer “it’s all in your head” is the doctor’s version of “you are responsible for this condition, not me.” Shifting blame and responsibility back onto the patient is the most classic of defense mechanisms. It is so much easier than saying, “I don’t know how to help you.” Better yet, “I can’t help you, but here are some practitioners I think might be better suited to treating this condition.”  Admitting this is the equivalent of admitting that there exist models of medicine other than the one the doctor was educated in that might actually have value.

In my experience, most doctors I have spoken to about Fibro would be totally happy not to ever treat anyone with Fibro again.  So why, then, do they drop the ball at the point of “all in your head” instead of providing an alternative treatment plan? Honestly, it seems to come down to two things: Ego and tunnel vision. Neither of these is a quality of good care.

We have the right to demand a different model of care from our doctors. We do not need to accept “all in your head” as a form of care. We can learn to hear this as “I am limited,” and have compassion for this doctor who is unable to provide us with care.

So, I hope this never happens to you. But if it does, I hope you can feel compassion for this doctor and accept the limitations of the model of medicine they practice; do not blame yourself. Move on. Find a functional doctor who can offer you better care. You deserve better.

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