When you go to your doctor for some problem you are having, there is no question that you want an answer to what it is. Not only does it ease your mind because you have clarity, but it also means that there may be treatment for that problem/disease and you will hopefully get better.
It’s not quite so apparent when it comes to our mental health. You may have heard of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is like a bible of diagnoses for mental health. Originally compounded by psychiatrists (MDs), it reflected doctors’ beliefs that mental health issues are like diseases, and can be treated once diagnosed.
The most recent version of the DSM, put out in 2013, has been updated to reflect current research and practices. It is used to label mental health issues so that insurance companies know what and how to bill. But for many practitioners it is also a useful way to define a client’s condition. So, is it helpful or not?
On the plus side, there are times when having a label to your experiences gives you peace, as you have a name for it and don’t feel you are “just crazy”. It is also critical in determining medication interventions. If one is diagnosed with attention deficit issues (ADD) or bipolar, for instance, it is likely that the right medication(s) can greatly improve quality of life. Having such a diagnosis—and very clear criteria to make that diagnosis—aids therapists and clients in collaboratively identifying courses of treatment.
If your partner is diagnosed with ADD, that gives a lens through which you can now understand your husband’s behavior, and it allows you to problem solve together, set realistic expectations for change, and, of course, get appropriate help in the form of therapy and/or medication.
On the down side, labeling can be highly stigmatizing and can even limit treatment options. Certain diagnoses come with all sorts of judgments—even on the part of therapists, who should be aware of these judgments, but aren’t always. Clients can become stuck on their diagnoses, instead of working on the solutions.
Most diagnoses don’t come with a clear and definite treatment, like a medical problem might. For instance, a diagnosis of depression might be treated with medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, mindfulness, or dozens of other options, depending on the client’s needs and the therapist’s skills. So some therapists prefer to look at the constellation of symptoms, and decide how to approach them without needing to put them in a box.
Having a label can be freeing, and can allow you and your therapist to come up with the right plan for you without adhering to strict labels. Another serious concern about labeling is that mistakes are made quite often! It could be the result of an unskilled therapist, or perhaps that clients share only selective information or inadvertently leave things out because they don’t know it’s important to share. Sometimes it takes years to piece together the whole picture and fully understand a person.
Whether you believe in labeling or not, it is always wise to do your own research, get a second opinion, ask lots of questions, and trust your gut!
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.