How Can I Politely Turn Down Medical Advice from a Friend?

Real Simple’s etiquette expert Catherine Newman on what to do when friends try to play doctor.

Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Q. I live in an area that has a lot of alternative-medicine practitioners, from acupuncturists to aromatherapists. I like my medical doctor, and I find these practices suspect. Unfortunately, several of my friends have begun alternative-medicine businesses and have asked me if I would like to use their services. 

I have tried a polite refusal, but a simple “No, thanks” doesn’t do it. They feel that they need to convince me that Western medicine is terrible. How do I say no to them without starting an argument?

A. M.

A. It’s up to you to pick and choose which medical and/or alternative therapies you wish to use. Period. My husband is a massage therapist, and nothing cures my migraine headaches like a half hour in the presence of his skillful hands. Does that mean that I’m eager to sign up for the energy healing that his office mate performs with hammers and dolls? Not necessarily. (Although I probably shouldn’t knock it till I try it.)

While you are welcome to decline any service, you should take care to communicate respect for your friends’ work. Doing so will probably result in a polite response, as opposed to the dire warnings that you’ve been subjected to. Say something as simple as “Thank you so much for letting me know. I’ll keep your offer in mind if I’m ever in need of it.” If you sense that your pals are trolling for more clients, offer to pin up a business card on the bulletin board where you work or to refer anyone you know who is specifically looking for alternative therapy.

And if the aromatherapists in your life continue to pressure you or proselytize? Say, “I’m satisfied with the medical care that I have,” then redirect the conversation: “But it’s great that you have found work that you love so much. What’s your favorite thing about it?” Just because you don’t want to lie down in their offices doesn’t mean that you can’t be a supportive friend.

Catherine Newman

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