Home (mobile)

Sometimes I counsel people who have physical health difficulties which have gone undiagnosed.  When they finally receive a label for their condition, for some this is a freeing experience; no longer do they have to live 'in the dark' about what their issue is, and they can feel more able to face the problem and tackle it.  If it is a physical issue there may be other health professionals involved - possibly a surgeon or other specialist - for whom the diagnosis is both necessary and useful.

There are, of course, many different labels which people find themselves given by healthcare professionals when it comes to mental health, too.  Depression, anxiety, OCD, psychosis; the list is long and well known.  In my experience as a therapist, people either take comfort in being given a title for their difficult feelings, or feel that they have been put into a 'box', and resent their labelling.  When the person-centred style of psychotherapy was being formulated, its founder Dr. Carl Rogers felt strongly that labels were not altogether necessary or helpful.  He argued that diagnosis should take a back seat to understanding the personal experience of the client there and then, in the 'here and now'.  A label, he felt, would not change the way a person felt about their difficulties, and could sometimes hinder them in their recovery.  The categorisation of mental health conditions in the USA is important partly because of the requirements of health insurance companies who need a firm diagnosis before funds can be released to treat a troubled person.  Nowadays the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which compiles a list of mental health conditions, identifies hundreds of distinct conditions.

In my view, a label is neither harmful nor helpful in itself, but rather is given power by the person to whom it is applied.  Some may take heart from knowing that their affliction is part of a recognised syndrome or illness, while for others it can be a heavy blow to be branded with such a frightening word or phrase.  One thing that seems to help those subject to a formal diagnosis of mental ill health is to realise that their particular label need not determine the outcome of their life, nor limit the possibilities of how much they can come to terms with difficult thoughts or feelings and move forward into the future.  One of the saddest aspects of mental health diagnosis is that some lose hope in the face of what can seem to be quite a crushing pronouncement.  I have shared with many worries about what the label 'means' in practical terms for their life and for what is to come.  Hopes and plans may seem to recede into uncertainty as a person tries to assimilate what their new label means to them.

On the flipside, I have also been witness to the courage many clients show when they recover from their initial reaction, deciding that they will be the author of their own destiny and not the label they have been given.  It is indeed possible for the client to learn that it is they themselves who define who they are and what they can achieve, and once this empowering idea is firmly grasped the client very often gains the strength to move forwards into the next day, the next week, the next month and beyond.

A label can mean different things to different people.  I would venture to say that perhaps one of the healthiest ways to treat a troublesome diagnosis is to hold it lightly, recognising that it need not be a sentence nor a prediction of what it is to come.  In doing so, it may not matter too much one way or the other what name is given to a problem, and so recovery and wellness can be more usefully prioritised.

Rob Oglesby MBACP (Accred) B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy

Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email.  More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at www.ashwoodtherapy.com

Diagnosis: What's In A Name?

Diagnosis | Ashwood Therapy Wellbeing Blog