Pain Provider Red Flags

When you struggle with pain, finding the right provider is critical to your physical health and your sanity. It’s imperative that your doctor listens, understands, and believes you. The wrong provider results in unnecessary, counterproductive torment. Why won’t they listen? Why don’t they believe I know what works? Why do they think they know my body better than I do?

Over the years, I’ve worked with many provider personalities. The experience has allowed me to see behavior patterns—specifically, those you should avoid.


4 Provider Types to Steer Clear of

Dr. Gaslighter talks down to you. They explain things with a condescending tone, like you barely made it past kindergarten. I remember when my son was in the ER with croup and an asthma attack, and we were discussing his treatment.


The doctor instructed, “Give him 4 puffs of albuterol.”

I replied, “He can’t tolerate that much albuterol at once. It gives him unbearable anxiety.”

The doctor stood up taller, furrowed her brows, and responded, “That’s not possible.”

I clarified, “A side effect I have witnessed on multiple occasions and is written on the FDA label is not possible?”

A provider’s knowledge gap does not make you dumb or irrational.

Care is not productive or helpful with this personality type.


Dr. Narcissus acts like the visit is about their brilliance, not you. They expect you to be impressed just by having the opportunity to meet with them. They don’t allow you to ask questions about their decisions. The medical profession is teeming with narcissism. Dr. Narcissus is a cousin of Dr. Gaslighter.


Dr. Inflexible is a provider who is too rigid or “black or white.” Clinical medicine is shades of gray. Not everything can be studied and supported by randomized controlled trials; even fewer things can be studied accurately. If an action makes sense from a scientific standpoint and is low-risk, it is worth the provider being open and considering it.


Dr. Algorithm can’t think beyond the guidelines. Patient care is not that simple. Guidelines are guidelines and not rules for a reason; they don’t apply to everyone. If a provider can’t see you as unique—not shoving you into a computer-generated formula—they may be too rigid.


I would be remiss not to mention Everyone’s Miserable Medical Center. It is easily spotted. During your clinic visit, the receptionist, the medical assistant, and the nurse are rude, disinterested, and disrespectful. If everyone looks miserable in the office, they are. The clinic is toxic; don’t catch the infection.


Listen to your intuition. You know when someone gets you and your struggle. And, remember, second opinions are invaluable. There is surprising variation in treatment approaches among pain providers. If you feel uneasy, talk to another provider.

The reality is that not every clinician is a good fit for every person. Not every clinician is well-trained in your medical condition. And, not all providers are good clinicians; it’s a spectrum from barely adequate to exceptional.


Find the best fit to get the quality of care you need and deserve. Learn more about finding the right provider for you in my book Sunbreak: Healing the Pain No One Can Explain.