5 Steps to Advocating Your Health Concerns


One of the most miserable feelings in the world is the feeling of not being heard, especially by someone whom you are seeking help or just trying to understand you. That's how I felt a couple years ago when I visited my fourth OB/GYN in 1 1/2 years. Yep, that's right. I said FOURTH! I am happy to say that I am in love with this doctor's clinical ability and more importantly her ability to listen, hear, and get me!

As a clinician who trains future clinicians, one of the principles that I try to instill is that, though standardized methods (e.g. normed tests and diagnostic/assessment tools) can certainly provide us with important information about those we provide services, such methods do not always tell the whole story. Sometimes the story is never revealed when relying solely on standardized methods. In my case, my symptoms appeared fairly common and all the "normal tests" for my symptoms were conducted - only to come back normal. Even though the test results were normal, I still had the symptoms. Four gynecologists later, it was determined that my symptoms were not "textbook perfect" and such tests were only helpful in ruling out what was not wrong with me and leading to my concerns being dismissed by previous providers.

What made my current gynecologist different from the first three? Well, several things. But the one most important attribute that distinguished this provider from the others is she took the time to hear me. She did not rely solely on the textbook to address my case. As a person who encourages my own clients to advocate for themselves, I knew that I could not (no, I would not) continue to see a provider who is unwilling to attentively listen to my concerns and explain to me the purpose of any test and diagnostic impressions (in other words, what is causing the symptom and how do I get rid of the cause?). So many people do not realize that they have a right to have their providers address these issues. Your provider does just that - PROVIDES you with a service that, in most instances, you pay for. And even if you do not pay for treatment, you are worthy of having your health concerns (whether physical or mental) addressed appropriately and humanely. The following five steps can help you with this process:

1. Make a list of your symptoms before your appointment. Take some time to think about your symptoms: when/where do they occur? how often? what are you doing when they occur? Sometimes when we see a provider, we feel rushed to discuss our concerns or we may not be able to remember everything we need to tell the provider. Making a list before your appointment alleviates these issues.

2. Call several providers and ask if they treat your concerns and inquire about their experience. You would not see a dermatologist for chest pains. You would consult a cardiologist. Call the provider that is appropriate for your needs. Whether a therapist, physician, accupunturist, etc., inquire about their services and experience in treating concerns of your nature. Don't be afraid to shop around before committing to scheduling an appointment. Making an appointment with the wrong provider can be a waste of time and money and can cause increased frustration, anxiety, and depression.

3. Be open and honest with your provider. Upon seeing your provider, talk about what is on your list. Be open and honest. Remember, your provider wants to help you as much as you want them to help - but can only heal what you reveal.

4. Communicate and advocate. If your provider says something that you do not understand, ask questions. Do not be afraid to tell him/her that you need more clarity. A part of their job and ethical responsibility is to help you understand what is happening to you, alternatives to resolving what is wrong, and the benefits and drawbacks of each alternative.

5. If it don't feel right, take flight! If you feel, after talking with your provider, that you felt rushed or dismissed, or that your needs were not met in the way you needed them addressed, leave. Yes, leave. You do not have to stay or return. Seek a different (but capable) provider who is appropriate to address your needs.

Finding the right provider may take a little time. It took me over a year to find the right gynecologist for me, but hopefully your search will not be as long. And if it is, so what? Don't you think you're worth it? Remember, one provider cannot be all things to all people. We are not all standardized and it is important to find the provider who is a good fit for you and can address your concerns to the utmost of their ability and humanity. You deserve to be heard but you have to advocate for this. You deserve a provider who gets you. You are worthy and you deserve nothing less. In this way, you advocate for yourself and - yes, affirm yourself. Your physical and mental health depend on it, as does your total wellbeing.