Are Physicians (and Other Health Care Providers) Reluctant to Seek Help?

Are Physicians (and Other Health Care Providers) Reluctant to Seek Help?

By Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.

Physicians report that they are often reluctant to seek help for psychological distress because of the possible impact on their licensure status  in their home state.  The Mayo Clinic reports (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a press release) that many states have licensing applications, or renewal forms, that include questions about past treatment for mental health issues; such questions imply that a doctor’s right to practice may be affected by how these questions are answered.

The research examined the licensing applications for all 50 states, and the renewal applications for 48.  A survey was also completed with more than 5,800 doctors, with questions about their attitudes toward seeking psychotherapy.  Almost 40% of the respondents reported reluctance to seek help for psychological issues, fearing that doing so might impact their medical license.

In looking at the applications, only one-third asked about current medical or mental health conditions that would impair a physician’s ability to provide services, or did not ask at all about mental health conditions.  This meets the guidance of several professional organizations, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  Instead, a majority of the applications (two-thirds) asked a variety of questions, such as inquiries about past diagnosis or treatment for mental health issues.  MD’s in this majority of states, were 21% more inclined to not ask for mental health help.  Thus, such questions do prompt medical professionals to be more reluctant to seek help.

Changing the licensing process in this majority of states would be a fairly simple step that would  help reduce barriers to physicians seeking mental health services.  It would likely require state legislative action.

My own experience with counseling physicians and health care providers has been that significant benefit and relief from therapy actually enhances their ability to care for their own patients, reduces burnout, and improves their overall well-being.  It is striking how a more educated community in our country might be reluctant to seek help due to what they perceive as professional pressure.  Do such worries impact the more general population as well…..still?

Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310  539-2772, or dralanms@gmail.com

Copyright 2017 by  Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.