Fear of the doctor (iatrophobia): symptoms, causes and treatment

We have all been to the doctor many times in our lives and the work of these professionals is essential to our health.

But despite the benefits of dealing with this group, some people suffer from a disorder called iatrophobia, which is the irrational and persistent fear of doctors and, in general, all related professionals, such as nurses. In fact, this disorder can extend to anything related to health. For example, drugs.

Atrophobia is a serious illness that must be treated. In this article, we will review its features, causes and treatment.

What is iatrophobia

Even going to the doctor can save a person’s life, some people are afraid to go to health centers for fear that they will experience in the presence of these professionals. In fact, the vast majority of people were born in a hospital, so the first person we come into contact with in this life, besides our mother, is a doctor and the rest of the health professionals who are there. part.

But even if the doctors are there to help us, some people develop a phobic disorder towards them.

Phobias are irrational fears that cause great anxiety and discomfort and therefore the person tries to avoid the dreaded stimulus. Fear and anxiety are sophisticated survival systems that have to do with the primitive part of the brain, so they are complex to manage. However, phobias and anxiety disorders can be overcome with the right psychological treatment.

Differences from this disorder with fear of injections

Another phobia related to the fear of doctors is trypanophobia or afraid of injections, This usually affects the person when an injection has to be given and go to a health facility to receive it. It therefore shares similarities with phobia among doctors.

However, iatrophobia is more common and affects the person to be vaccinated or vaccinated. Atrophobia manifests itself even with a simple routine visit to the doctor and is a heterogeneous concept, which can vary depending on the person affected.

In severe cases, iatrophobes may even fear direct contact with medication or the idea of ​​performing an auscultation test. Whether it is for fear of doctors or injections, the person can risk their life, for example not to be vaccinated against diseases like tetanus or to avoid going to the doctor despite the possibility of suffering from a serious illness. .

the causes

Phobias are irrational fears that usually develop as a result of a direct patient experience. This experience causes him a strong emotional impact which leaves him marked.

In fact, phobias arise through a type of associative learning called classical conditioning., Which was originally discovered by Ivan Pavlov, but made popular by John B. Watson. To learn how phobias are learned, you can watch the audiovisual content presented below.

As explained in the video, the first phobia research that was done on humans is known as the “Little Albert Experiment”, in which the child was conditioned to be afraid of a white rat they worshiped in. in the old days. At present, this experiment could not be performed as it is considered unethical.

  • You can read more about classical conditioning in our article: “Classic conditioning and its most important experiences”

Other causes of phobias

Phobias develop in us only through direct experience, but observation can lead an individual to become fearful of doctors. Therefore, vicarious conditioning is another cause for which a person can suffer from a phobia, and involves observing the reactions of other people to a stimulus relevant to both the subject and the observer. You can explore this concept further in our article: “Proxy conditioning: how does this type of learning work?”

Some experts also claim that we are biologically predisposed to phobic disorders.. because fear and anxiety are emotions that have enabled us to survive as a species. The problem is that they have to do with the most instinctive and primitive part of our brain, and therefore are not easily changed by logical arguments. The reason is that these associations are not cognitive, but emotional and primitive.

How to treat this phobia

There is a great deal of research on the treatment of phobias, as many patients undergo psychological therapy seeking professional help in dealing with phobias.

Scientific evidence shows that to overcome a phobia, cognitive behavioral therapy works very well. The most commonly used cognitive-behavioral techniques are relaxation techniques and exposure techniques. A method that combines the two techniques and has become the treatment par excellence for these pathologies is systematic desensitization.

This technique consists in gradually exposing the patient to the phobic stimulus, but not without having been previously instructed by the psychologist to develop useful adaptation strategies in the face of feared situations. This is where relaxation techniques are mainly included.

In severe cases, pharmacological treatment is indicated; however, always in conjunction with psychotherapy.

current treatments

However, other methodologies are also used today to treat phobias and other anxiety disorders, primarily third-generation therapies, including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and acceptance and engagement therapy.

Virtual reality (VR) becomes a support for psychologists, because they allow the patient to be exposed to feared situations without the phobic stimulus having to be present. In addition, thanks to new technologies, mobile applications have been developed which include VR and augmented reality. We tell you in our article: “8 applications to treat phobias and fears of your smartphone”

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