What's in a Name: Deciphering Diagnoses
What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." ~Shakespeare
Every now and then a client will ask me about their diagnosis. My approach with all things therapy (and perhaps all things in general) is to be curious and compassionate. So my response is often a question: What does it mean to you to have a diagnosis? How will knowing your diagnosis potentially help you?
Words have power.
A diagnosis is a label to describe a certain set of symptoms. It is a communication tool amongst members in the field of counseling, psychology, psychiatry, and other medical disciplines. These labels facilitate continuity of care by creating a commonality of language for understanding.
So, what's in a name?
For some, a diagnosis is liberating. Having the knowledge that the symptoms you have been experiencing have a name can provide a sense of peace and relief from self-doubt and confusion. There can also be solace in kinship, in the recognition that you are not alone in your suffering. Your suffering has a name and others experience it as well. If you have a history of being invalidated, a diagnosis might offer the validation you have been seeking.
For some, a diagnosis is damaging. Diagnoses have been used to stigmatize, marginalize, and dehumanize. Too often I witness clients who have adopted the label as their identity. I am an anxious person. I am a depressed person. When we fuse our identity with a diagnosis, it narrows our world—it limits our experience and courage.
Nothing is fixed. Diagnoses can also change over time. Some diagnoses we may grow out of. We may process through old pain or learn new coping skills that reduce the impact of symptoms. We may have periods of higher functionality and periods of greater suffering.
If the question of a diagnosis enters your body-mind, whether it is a label from the past or present, I invite you to engage in the following inquiry with total curiosity:
How have labels impacted my life?
How might the label of a diagnosis change things for me?
What would it mean for me to have a name for my experience?
How might it benefit me?
How might it harm me?
What fears arise as I consider potential diagnoses?
How might I offer myself kindness with a diagnosis?
I invite you to turn towards yourself with a compassionate heart and trust whatever arises during your inquiry.
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