Doctor, Doctor

the medicLast weekend I spoke  at the Christian Medical Fellowship conference. I was giving trainee medics a sufferer’s perspective on eating disorders.

I opened by saying I was scared of doctors. (I’m scared of many things; but doctors, large groups of women and clowns are the worst).They laughed.  And I said, ‘no, I really am scared of GPs.  Here’s why’.

I talked through some of my experiences. And the fears that go with you into the surgery.

  • “I’m not thin enough. They won’t believe me.”
  • “They won’t think it’s an Eating Disorder – they’ll just think I’m fat”
  • “They won’t take me seriously.”
  • “They’ll take this too seriously. They’ll tell people, lock me up, take away control “
  • “The doctor is just going to make me gain/lose weight!”
  • They’ll take my kids/job/freedom away”
  • “They’ll tell me to eat more but I don’t know how – and anyway, it’s much more than that”
  • “I’m too old/young/wrong gender/wrong size to have an eating disorder.”
  • They’ll tell other people”

You don’t need to be a GP to get this. But for many folks, the doctor is the first person they go to for help, (sometimes after months or years of trying to get the courage). How this person responds is how they’ll gauge the size of the problem and how much they’re worth. Which means that doctors can be an amazing force for good – or they can do a lot of damage.

The National ED Association: offers training and resources for GPs. They say physicians, despite good intentions, sometimes make the following mistakes. :

  • Setting or agreeing to an artificially low body weight
  • Sharing their own concerns with food, weight, body image
  • Expressing negative feelings regarding fat people
  • Being over-concerned about the increase in obesity and therefore unable to identify harmful weight control
  • Supporting restrictive dieting
  • Not working collaboratively with other providers
  • While attempting to support the patient or family, undermining treatment and reinforcing resistance.

Talking to the trainee doctors afterwards, I was struck by their compassion and concern. Here were people who simply wanted to help. They weren’t scary at all. In fact they had their own struggles and insecurities too.

Maybe that’s what both patients and doctors need to know most of all. Across the GP’s desk there sit two human beings – not institutions or labels, but individuals with their own stories and concerns. If we can get past the stereotypes and open up a little, there’s a wonderful opportunity for help and understanding. It works both ways.

11 thoughts on “Doctor, Doctor

  1. I face a similar task in a few weeks time- to convince a roomful of psychiatrists that DID is a real diagnosis. Whilst I am glad to be given the opportunity to speak to them I am also so so afraid!

  2. Thank you so much for coming to speak Emma, I’m a second year medical student and I was at the conference. I found what you said really clear and helpful and I think that I understand a bit more about what people with eating disorders might think when coming to see the doctor. Hopefully I will be able to put some of what I learnt into practice in the future. Jenna

  3. Nicky: you’ve been a long-time inspiration for both me and Glen. We’ll be praying for you – and I’d love to hear how you get on.

    Thanks so much Jenna – that’s very kind.

  4. I have a pretty significant phobia of doctors… it’s interesting to think of them as humans who want to help and such.

  5. Hi Emma, I too was at the conference and attended your seminar. I’ve read some of your blog posts too and always find them immensely helpful (and challenging)! I really appreciate your honesty and your courage. THANK YOU! Please keep going!
    And I hope and pray that all Christian medics will have true compassion and respect for all the people we have the privilege of meeting as patients

  6. Good question. I remind myself that they’re ordinary folks like me. I take a friend or someone who can help me speak if I dry up (and reassure me afterwards). I think of the GPs I met at the conference and their care and compassion. I write in advance what I want to say. I pray and I keep praying and I get others to pray. I phone the surgery in advance and ask if they have anyone who specialises in mental health. I remind myself that I need this help to get better: and my body needs someone who can check it’s okay, inside and out. I don’t listen to the ED; I listen to the Lord who tells me I don’t need to be afraid to go into the light. And when I’ve gone, I reward myself with a HUGE cup of sweet tea. x

  7. Thank you- those things are really helpful suggestions! Trying to get up the courage to go and get some things checked out, but my word does it take a lot of courage. Definitely going to try to implement some of those things though. xx

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