Sunday, March 13, 2011

Making Sense of a Mental-Health Diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis from a mental health provider can be confusing and overwhelming. Recently, several clients and I have had conversations about their diagnoses.
The first thing I did was help each client put his diagnosis into perspective. Most of the time, clients are mentally healthy human beings who have been worn down by an accumulation of bad circumstances and/or bad habits. Usually a diagnosis does not mean you are mentally ill or crazy.

Diagnoses are required by insurance companies in the U.S. for clients to receive some reimbursement for the cost of treatment. Many of us in the mental health field believe diagnoses are at best somewhat helpful, and at worst severely limiting labels used to placate insurance companies.  The criteria used in our profession’s guide, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), are imperfect and often over-lap, and therefore should be used with caution. However, a diagnosis can help direct you and your therapist to a style of therapy that has been proven to treat your symptoms.

It is the therapist’s job to explain a diagnosis in a manner that you can understand, and to work with you to create a treatment plan that you are comfortable with. For example, Interpersonal Therapy and Narrative (Writing) Therapy have both been shown to help with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. Clients who are shy and enjoy writing are likely to choose Narrative Therapy, and will likely respond better to this treatment.

What to do when you receive a diagnosis

             Ask your therapist good questions
*Why did they assign this particular diagnosis to you?
* What are the best types of therapy to help with your symptoms?
   Are there studies that back this up?
            * How long does the therapist estimate treatment will take?
            * Are there other treatments for your diagnosis besides therapy?

Hearing the diagnosis  “Adjustment Disorder”, “ADHD”, or  “PTSD” is disconcerting. However, an open dialogue with a good therapist can turn an uncomfortable moment into an opportunity. Be assertive, ask questions, and partner with your clinician in your treatment.  Good luck. It is hard work, but feeling better is well worth the effort.