Elizabeth Barnes is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. Her research interests are divided between metaphysics, social philosophy, feminist philosophy, and ethics. She is particularly interested in the places where these topics overlap. Elizabeth wrote a book on disability and recently finished writing a book about the nature of health.
Trust, Distrust, and ‘Medical Gaslighting’: What kind of special insight do patients have into their experience of their own bodies? To what extent are physicians obligated to trust patients about the seriousness of their complaints? In recent years, the concept of ‘medical gaslighting’ has gained popularity and attention. ‘Gaslighting’ describes cases in which someone is made to doubt aspects of her own experience which she would usually have no reason to question and over which she would usually be seen as an authority. Discussion of ‘medical gaslighting’ applies this concept to the physician-patient relationship, attempting to describe cases in which people are made to doubt their experience of their own bodies when physicians dismiss their symptoms as insignificant, trivial, or psychosomatic. Discussions of medical gaslighting often make legitimate criticisms of some aspects of medical practice, ones which are worth taking seriously. But the idea of ‘gaslighting’ is too blunt a tool to be applied to the complex epistemic dynamic between physicians and patients. I argue that demands that we trust patients’ complex interpretations of their own experiences risk doing more harm than good.