6 years ago · Leah Fogt · Comments Off on Understanding a Diagnosis
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the whole idea of “diagnosis”, especially when it comes to mental health. I find that many of my clients are confused about what these terms are really all about. I think it’s very important to be informed, so I’d like to try to take some of the mystery out of the matter!
When an individual comes to counseling or psychotherapy, the clinician they are seeing will likely render a diagnosis. A formal diagnosis allows us to demonstrate “medical necessity” and bill your insurance company. A diagnosis is essential a name for a problem. Just like sinusitis, urinary tract infection, or Diabetes are names that describe a medical problem with a specific set of signs and symptoms, a mental health diagnosis has certain criteria that help clinicians to recognize what’s going on. Just like medical problems, some mental health diagnosis are temporary (acute) and some are long-term (chronic).
The tricky thing about a mental health diagnosis is that it is not exact. These terms are somewhat subjective. If you see three different clinicians, you may get three different names for the problem though hopefully they are all in the same ballpark. There are groupings of diagnoses (Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Psychotic Disorders, Personality Disorders, etc.) which help us begin to zero-in on an accurate name for the problem and over the course of treatment, you may see that the clinician may be able to more specifically define what you’re experiencing. If the general diagnosis is accurate, the therapeutic interventions are likely to be about the same – no matter what the specific name turns out to be. (For example, I will help a person with Dysthymia in about the same way that I would help a person who is having a Major Depressive Episode. We may just know more, the longer we work together.)
While research and technology are making it easier for us to identify and treat mental illness, it’s still not exact. We can’t do a blood test to tell us “it’s this” or “it’s that.” This is why it is CRUCIAL for clients/patients to try to be as honest, direct, and forthcoming as possible when communicating with their providers. The more we know, the easier it will be for us to help. Your doctor may be able to find the right medication for you faster. Your therapist may be able to target the right interventions more quickly to help you make positive changes – which in turn gets you feeling better faster!
A Diagnosis, not YOUR Diagnosis
The most important thing you should know about a diagnosis is that it is JUST A NAME. If your paperwork says “Bipolar Disorder,” (or any other label for that matter) this does not define you. It’s a name for a set of symptoms. It describes moods, thought patterns, or behaviors. You are YOU. You most certainly are NOT A DIAGNOSIS. You are an individual with life experiences, ideas, opinions, and feelings that are unique to you and you alone. Ask questions and educate yourself, but try not to get hung up on labels, names, and terms. Be you and work on being the best you that you can be!
If you want to learn about a particular diagnosis, the National Institute of Mental Health is a great resource. Ask your providers questions. Maybe think about what your strengths are – the capabilities, knowledge, insights, and skills that you bring to the table that make you resilient. Your strengths will be at the heart of your therapeutic experience, and your therapist can help you to mobilize them so you can make the most of all the wonderful things that make you you!
Categories: Skills and Resources