Diagnostic labels can be useful, in their own way. They can help make sense of different symptoms. They can help determine treatment. People – and therapists, doctors, and insurance providers – often want to have some idea of what someone is struggling with, and diagnostic labels can be a way to obtain that by giving someone a reason for their symptoms and a way to better understand themselves.
Yet diagnostic labels are not without their problems. For many, when a person hears a diagnosis, they often adopt it as a label and as a part of their identity. They may even experience symptoms they didn’t experience before – known as somatization. Diagnostic labels have value, but they can also be problematic.
How Labels Can Be Weaponized
These labels can also go a step further. When a person has a mental health issue, like depression, they may find themselves so fully identifying as that label that they may use that as an excuse for their choices and behaviors.
For example, a teenager that has depression may choose to not do their homework and blame the depression, even if the depression is not necessarily to blame. Or an adult diagnosed with anxiety may duck out of a conversation with their partner and blame their anxiety, rather than their choice not to listen to their partner’s words.
There is no denying that anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can affect how we function day to day, and in some cases can affect things like homework and tough relationship conversations. But people have agency. Even when they are struggling with their mental health, they are generally capable of making choices and being responsible for those choices. When a person is labeled by a diagnosis, then the diagnosis may be used as a weapon rather than a challenge to be addressed.
Using Diagnoses Correctly
For psychologists, the best approach may be one that doesn’t necessarily label someone with a disorder, but does explain how a person may have symptoms associated with specific issues. We can use workarounds, including:
- Talking about a person’s mental health like it’s transient, not an indent
- Discuss the symptoms of the disorder without focusing on the name of the disorder.
- Avoid convincing people that they have a disorder and instead look for ways to support their growth.
It can be tricky navigating the delicate line between identifying a person’s challenges and making sure they do not end up turning their diagnosis into an identity, but there are ample reasons to believe that doing so would have value for the patient, and help prevent them from accidentally using their experience in a way that may drive people away or hurt their long term mental health.
If you are looking for help, don’t worry about a diagnosis. Contact us today for a personalized approach to therapy.