Why won’t many psychiatrists listen to patients? Your psychiatrist is supposed to be helping you. Your psychiatrist is supposed to be on your side. You and your psychiatrist are supposed to be a team to fight mental illness together. But this just doesn’t always turn out to be true. So many of us have, in fact, experienced the opposite. So why is it that psychiatrists won’t listen to patients?
I actually get this question all the time so yes, in my experience, many psychiatrists do not listen to their patients. I can’t speak for psychiatrists with any degree of authority, but from the patient side of the room, here’s what I’ve noticed:
- Psychiatrists often think, or at least act, like they’re better than their patients. Why this is? I’m not entirely sure but puffed egos sure do seem to make their way into doctors’ offices.
- Psychiatrists think they know better than their patients perhaps because they simply know more. But what psychiatrists forget, of course, is that while they may know more about mental illness, they definitely don’t know more about any one person’s experience of that illness, which is always unique.
- Psychiatrists are pressed for time. It is an unfortunate reality that psychiatrists are squeezed by insurance companies just like patients are. Sometimes there isn’t time to listen even if they want to.
- Psychiatrists may buy into a parental relationship with their patients. In previous generations this was common. The doctor was the “parent,” the patient was the “child,” and the child was to be seen and not heard. We now know there are better ways to work a doctor-patient relationship.
- Psychiatrists get burned out. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough specialists like psychiatrists to go around meaning that some psychiatrists have a ridiculously high workload, and they are just plain burnout. Their “compassion sensors” go on the fritz. Psychiatrists then stop listening to patients. This is human.
- The professional distance they must have gets overgrown. While it is true that psychiatrists must maintain a professional distance from their patients in order to do an effective job, sometimes this distance becomes too large and stands in the way of a working relationship.
- For some people — even psychiatrists — in the back of their brains, they’re still thinking that people with mental illness are crazy and not to be believed (this is related to the next point).
- People like psychiatrists tend to see the worst of the worst cases. These cases often involve people who don’t know what is good for them due to the effects of the illness. These cases mean that the psychiatrist must make the decisions for the patient because they’re the only ones who can. Unfortunately, sometimes this transfers to other relationships with even high-functioning patients who do know what is good for them.
I would like to be clear in stating that not all psychiatrists are like this. Not all psychiatrists don’t listen to patients. I have a great doctor who listens to me, but I’ve certainly had others that didn’t. I certainly wouldn’t want to paint all psychiatrists with the same brush, however.
Next time I’m going to talk about how to handle this problem and what to do if your doctor won’t listen to you.