Have you ever left a provider’s office feeling misunderstood, misdiagnosed, invalidated, or even just confused on what you just experienced? You are not alone. Significant research has been conducted on the psychological impact of attending an appointment and feeling dismissed or not listened to. Research conducted by Bontempo (2021), focused on female patients dealing with endometriosis, and feeling dismissed, misguided, and misunderstood by their providers. Bontempo (2021) looked at the overall psychological impact, increase in depression, and reduction of self-esteem by the patients in this study. While this is a very specific diagnosis that is often, way too often, misdiagnosed and ignored, but a similar response could come from any provider appointment where you do not feel heard or understood.
When looking at the uphill battle to even get an appointment with a provider, to finally get to the appointment and feel invalidated, has an impact on a person’s self-esteem, and their desire to continue to seek out help for their symptoms. While this is more often discussed with medical providers, the same could be said for a mental health provider. People go to an appointment because their physical or mental health symptoms and challenges have gone beyond what they are willing to tolerate. When you make the decision to go see a new provider, check insurance, wait for the appointment, take time out of your day, and go to an office, you are going to expect some sort of useful and helpful feedback or information. After you build yourself up, feeling the feelings of anxious anticipation, and then the vulnerability of talking about symptoms and experiences, the last thing you want is to feel invalidated, and dismissed.
According to Bontempo (2021), the feelings of invalidation come from the connection between communication and trust. You are putting yourself in a situation where you are trusting a new person, speaking vulnerably, and exposing yourself emotionally and physically. When the provider is dismissive or invalidating, that is shown to have a profound impact on our self-esteem. Especially when the provider makes statements indicating that they do not believe you, or that you are making something up. Providers indicating that it is something “in your head”, or “not that bad”, is hurtful and painful emotionally.
Our self-esteem and self-worth are on the table when it comes to appointments with providers, and when we do not feel that we are believed, understood, or validated, that will not only impact the relationship with the provider, but impacts our relationship with ourselves. The decrease in personal validation, and decrease in self-worth/self-esteem can lead to increased challenges with depressive symptoms. Where does that leave the patient now? Alone, betrayed, low self-worth/self-esteem, increased feelings of depression, and recently snubbed by a medical provider. The chances of that person reaching out to connect with a mental health provider will now be lower too. Best case scenario, the person will get a second opinion, or find a specialist for their symptoms, and also reach out to get started with a mental health provider to support them through their current challenges and provide support to keep going! If you have found yourself in this situation, reach out to your insurance to see what specialists you can connect to for your specific symptoms, and also ask what mental health coverage your insurance offers so you can get connected with a mental health provider as well.