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Medical Gaslighting and Women's Advocacy

We are interested in the social, cultural, political, and historical foundations of women’s health, with a particular focus on medical gaslighting. The concept of gaslighting has recently gained considerable attention in both popular media, and within the intimate partner violence (IPV) literature. Within IPV, gaslighting is a form of emotional or psychological abuse wherein perpetrators (often intimate partners) manipulate or distort a person’s everyday self-concepts, reality, or interpersonal environment in an attempt to gain control. We argue that gaslighting is a broad phenomenon that should be understood as embedded within any power-laden relationship, which can extend beyond intimate partnerships, and include relationships with medical personnel, and providers. We are also exploring links between women’s health, and intimate partner violence (IPV), and the potential link between PCOS and IPV.

 

We are continuing to explore the important precursors and implications of gaslighting in health care using both qualitative (narrative) and quantitative approaches. Our plans are to build a comprehensive understanding of what medical gaslighting is, what it does, why it happens, and how to fight back against it through self-advocacy, cultural humility and feminist praxis, and health care reform to promote health equity.

Emma Getty, a student in the HEAL lab completed her undergraduate thesis on Medical Gaslighting (assisted by Chloe Curran), titled: I was tired of being told I was fine…”Women’s Experiences of Medical Gaslighting: A qualitative Inquiry

Here is a brief summary of what Emma found:

Medical gaslighting is a phenomenon characterized by the dismissal, downplay, or ignorance of a patient’s symptoms and lived experience with illness. To explore this phenomenon in greater detail, we collected 57 written open narratives of medical gaslighting from Canadian women (18 to 47 years old, M=23.38; with 51% seeking care for an acute concern, 40% for a chronic concern, with the vast majority of concerns being endocrinological/gynecological issues). Narratives were thematically analyzed using Braun and Clarke’s (2019) reflexive thematic analysis guidelines. Two overarching themes were constructed from participants' lived experiences that centered on power, and resistance: 1. abuse of power and the denial of embodied experience, 2. maintaining power through gatekeeping practices, and 3. expressions of power: dismissals, betrayals, and poor beside conduct. These experiences led to an array of impacts: emotional distress, loss of trust in the medical community, self-doubt of one's own embodied reality, and medical avoidance of routine procedures (e.g., regular screenings). Redistributing, and, in some cases reclaiming power were actively harnessed by participants through 1. becoming advocates, 2. challenging of physicians’ opinions through acts of resistance, 3. seeking a second opinion, and 4. engaging in alternative care practices. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to institutional power, and education as a route to health equity. **We will be collecting more diverse data on this topic soon**.