Fear Of The Doctor (iatrophobia): Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

We have all gone to the doctor several times in our lives, and the work of these professionals is essential for our health.

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

Iatrophobia is a serious condition that must be treated. In this article we will review its characteristics, its causes and its treatment.

What is iatrophobia

Although going to the doctor could save a person’s life, some individuals are afraid to go to health centers because of the fear they feel in the presence of these professionals. In fact, the vast majority of people were born in a hospital, so the first person we have contact with in this life, besides our mother, is a doctor and the rest of the health professionals who are at the hospital. Birth.

But even though doctors are there to help us, some subjects develop a phobic disorder towards them.

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

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Differences of this disorder with the fear of injections

Another phobia that is related to the fear of doctors is trypanophobia or fear of injections, which usually affects the person when they have to get an injection and go to the health center to get it. Therefore, it shares similarities with the phobia of doctors.

Now, iatrophobia is more general and affects the person regardless of whether they have to get an injection or go to the health center to get vaccinated. Iatrophobia is manifested even by a simple routine visit to the doctor and is a heterogeneous concept, which can vary depending on the person affected.

In severe cases, the iatrophobic may even fear direct contact with drugs or the idea of ​​performing an auscultation test. Whether due to fear of doctors or injections, a person can put his or her life at risk, for example, by not getting vaccinated against diseases such as tetanus or by avoiding going to the doctor despite the possibility of suffering from a serious illness.


Phobias are irrational fears that generally develop as a consequence of a direct experience experienced by the patient. This experience causes a strong emotional impact that leaves a mark on him.

In reality, phobias occur due to a type of associative learning called classical conditioning., originally discovered by Ivan Pavlov, but made popular by John B. Watson. To find out how phobias are learned, you can watch the audiovisual content shown below.

As explained in the video, the first research on phobias that was carried out with humans is what is known as the “little Albert experiment”, in which the child was conditioned to be afraid of a white rat that he previously adored. Currently this experiment could not be carried out as it is considered unethical.

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Other causes of phobias

Phobias do not only develop through direct experience, but observation can cause an individual to end up fearing doctors. Therefore, vicarious conditioning is another cause why a person may suffer from a phobia, and it consists of observing other people’s reactions to a stimulus that is relevant to both the subject and the person observing it. You can delve deeper into this concept in our article: “Vicarious conditioning: how does this type of learning work?”

Some experts also claim that we are biologically predisposed to suffer from phobic disorders.. Because fear and anxiety are emotions that have allowed 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 that is why they are not easily modified by logical arguments. The reason is that these associations are not cognitive, but emotional and primitive.

How to treat this phobia

There is a lot of research on the treatment of phobias, as many patients come to psychological therapy seeking professional help to treat 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 both techniques and that has become the treatment par excellence for these pathologies is systematic desensitization.

This technique consists of gradually exposing the patient to the phobic stimulus, but not before having first received instruction from the psychologist to develop useful coping strategies in the face of feared situations. This is where relaxation techniques are mainly included.

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

Current treatments

Nowadays, other methodologies are also used to treat phobias and other anxiety disorders, mainly third-generation therapies, among which cognitive therapy based on Mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy stand out.

Virtual reality (VR) becomes a support for psychologists, as it allows the patient to be exposed to feared situations without the need for the phobic stimulus to be present. In addition, thanks to new technologies, mobile applications have been developed that include VR and augmented reality. We tell you about it in our article: “8 apps to treat phobias and fears from your smartphone”