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How to trust the medical profession again after feeling betrayed

Illustration: Tony H.


Change your service provider You go to see a psychologist for you Do your research Give yourself time Once bitten, twice shy

Sabrina, now a certified coach, author and peer-support worker, gives her tips for people who have felt, as she did, let down at some point in their life by certain carers. With time and good will, she managed to trust again. She explains how.


Medical professionals are not robots, they are human beings, and by virtue of this, they are fallible. Unfortunately, in this area, mistakes can be fatal. In mental health, it’s the same thing, and such “mistakes” can leave traces for long years to come.

I had a traumatising experience of psychiatric hospitals. It took me years to trust in the medical profession once more, especially relating to the psychological side of things. Maybe because I took a while to trust myself enough to know what was right for me or not?

Today, whilst I’m not a medical professional, I work with people with psychological disorders and addiction. I also work with medical professionals and social workers. That goes to show the journey I have been on from the hurt and angry person I once was!

My experience as a coach and peer-support worker leads me to say that some forms of professional support are not very helpful. In fact, they can even be harmful if there is not real empathy, and if enough consideration of an individual’s daily struggles is not taken.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists aren’t always aware of this. Sometimes, they think that their methods are so soft and kind that “it can’t do any harm”. I would like to remind people however that carers must be attentive, careful and show humility.

As soon as a therapeutic relationship is created, you must remember that a potential “simple mistake” may have consequences for the individual. In medicine, there is an obligation of due care and not of result, but when one does medical studies or throws themselves into a career in care, in theory, it’s to relieve rather than further suffering…


Primum non nocere (First, do not harm)

A sentence attributed to Hippocrates

Patients can sometimes, during their care, meet people who might be better off changing careers… Without condemning everything, there has to be a margin. If one has a bad experience, one must first ask oneself if it’s the entirety of the medical profession or a particular branch that one needs to question, or just the individuals directly implicated?

A certain degree of hindsight is necessary.

As long as we are reacting, resentment and anger win over reason. However, if we really want to heal and even recover, we must trust someone because alone, it’s impossible to recover. Nonetheless, it is not easy to put your trust in someone else again if you’ve felt betrayed.

So, how can it be done? How to trust again? How to form a (therapeutic) relationship again after a bad experience?

Change your service provider

Nothing prevents you from changing doctors, hospitals, practitioners… The first thing to do, when you have lost faith, is to change professionals. If you no longer trust those supposed to help you, they will not be able to do so. You can try as many different people as you want until you find someone with whom you can connect and you feel at ease. That is not being capricious. In fact, I would say it’s respecting oneself enough to know that you deserve to find the right person / people.

Sometimes, it’s a bit of an obstacle course. I think back to the determination I had to muster to recover from my eating disorder. It was a GP who was the first to really help me. And after many failures, I was lucky enough to knock on the right door on the psychologist front.

Finding one’s psychologist is similar to finding a partner, in that it’s a question of alchemy, magic that operates or doesn’t

Sabrina Palumbo in her book "L'âme en éveil, le corps en sursis" (in French)

You go to see a psychologist for you

I’m going to come back to the idea of the service provider explained above. Here, it’s a question of outlook. Because the second thing to do when you have lost faith, is to remind yourself that you go to see a doctor or psychologist for you. To take care of yourself. You shouldn’t view this as an obligation or a constraint but as an investment in your health. The person consulting is the client! Let me say that I have no issue with interchanging the terms patient and client, the important thing is to feel comfortable with it…

The doctor / psychologist / psychiatrist / therapist is therefore the service provider, engaged to provide a service. See how it’s interesting to work from that point of view, consulting first with GPs before other medical professionals.

Do your research

The third thing I recommend is to do your research. Patients nearly all have the same Google reflex these days, and that’s a good thing! You can inform yourself on the person you are about to go and see, read testimonials, research what methods and protocols they use. You mustn’t hesitate to ask questions. Lots of carers are very open to discussion.

To summarize, it’s about being the actor / actress of your journey through treatment. Understanding what is happening, remembering that you can always interrupt a form of treatment that is not serving you, being aware of your choices and why you have made them… I would, nonetheless, like to bring your attention to information found here and there. Just because a piece of information seems believable doesn't mean that it’s necessarily trustworthy.

Give yourself time

Give yourself time. Deciding to trust is no small matter. Sometimes, as I said, years are needed to manage it. Don’t rush. Give yourself the time you need without torturing yourself. Remember, too, that the time you spend researching and asking questions is time saved in getting effective treatment down the line.

Once bitten, twice shy

To conclude: after a bad experience, we often become more demanding and aren’t satisfied by vague promises from slightly lenient professionals. In that sense, I think it’s important to be vigilant (people who are ill and have lost faith in the medical profession can become the target of unscrupulous individuals), and remember that taking care of oneself and making decisions is often a question of common sense.

Personally, I am a big believer in the individual’s ability to be discerning when it comes to ethically questionable propositions of help, and I regret the paternalistic habit of considering sufferers to be fragile little things.

Lastly, I think we have to let go of the desire to control everything. We can put in place as many security nets as we wish, we will never be safe from disappointment or negative experience. Bearing this in mind, and after having validated a certain number of criteria, you might as well decide to listen to your feelings and heart when deciding whether or not to put your trust in someone.

Confinement and mental health: goodbye, guilt!
Insane mag in 2020 and the state of society as regards to mental health: an interview with Lucie, the founder of Insane magazine