How To Be Your Own Advocate In 5 Steps

Learning how to advocate for yourself or someone you’re taking care of is one of the hardest things to do. From providers who don’t believe you, to insurance companies making your life difficult, it takes real skill to make sure you’re getting the care you need. I’ve experienced this struggle myself, and I see it all the time in my clients. Here are 5 steps to help you figure out who the right providers are for you.

  1. If your provider isn’t listening to you, that’s a huge red flag. This comes in many forms - dismissing pain or the severity of pain, running a test when you say you don’t want it (or the opposite), claiming their expert knowledge trumps your experience of what’s happening…. You are the expert on the experience of your body. You deserve to have providers who respect that and take you seriously.

  2. Ask all of your questions. If you are confused about why an exercise, medication, or test is being prescribed, ask for clarification. Think about what’s been happening before you arrive at your appointment and write down your questions so you don’t forget them. There is no such thing as a stupid question.

  3. Get a second opinion. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with your provider. We are not machines that can be fixed easily like your dishwasher. We are infinitely more complicated. Even if you aren’t totally sure you disagree, but just suspect you might, find a second opinion. See what your situation looks like from a different point of view.

  4. Bring company. Want to make sure there’s someone who will be brave enough to speak up if you aren’t yet? Bring a trusted friend or family member to your appointment. You don’t have to be your only advocate.

  5. Trust your gut. You know when you’re being taken seriously. You know when you think someone or something is wrong, even if you don’t know why. You know when an exercise hurts when you’ve been told it shouldn’t. You know how much pain you’re in, or how far from your normal you feel. Don’t let someone’s expertise get in the way of your own self-knowledge.

Here are a couple of examples I’ve come across recently of situations where my clients needed to be advocates for themselves:

  • A 16-year-old girl is given back surgery for her lower back pain. The lower back pain does not improve post-surgery, and new pain shows up during her recovery in a seemingly unconnected place. She’s told not to worry about the new pain.

  • A woman in her late 60s with advanced arthritis in both knees is told by her physical therapist to do full squats to help decrease swelling, even though bending her knees to go up and down stairs hurts.

Things like this unfortunately happen all the time, in big and small ways, and it’s your job to keep irresponsible providers honest and on their toes. Trust your gut to tell you when you’re with a provider you trust, and when you need to be asking more questions, getting a second opinion, or dropping a provider altogether.