Andrea Harrn Counselling Services

Is getting a diagnosis a good idea?

This is a question that often pops up in counsellor training and also in the therapy room.

Does having a diagnosis help or hinder the client?   We are all different in our personalities and behaviours and this is what makes us so unique.  Your behaviour might be normal for you but strange to others or vice versa.

For many people being diagnosed will be a huge relief and is an opportunity to receive the right help or medication.  Bipolar Disorder is a diagnosis that springs to mind here.  A young man I know for many years suffered with extreme lows, depressive and suicidal thoughts and self-harm yet at other times was literally climbing up lamp posts, behaving inappropriately and loudly in public and getting himself in real trouble as an exhibitionist.   He was also heavily into drugs and alcohol.  These situations were becoming more frequent and so upsetting not just for him but for his friends and family.  It was very hard to be around him.  It was suggested that he visit his GP and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist.   This referral resulted in a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and he was then given medication to help him.  This for him was really useful – I also gave him lots of reading material and this helped him to understand that he was not going crazy.  He has had counselling sessions on and off for a period of time and his life is now more under control.

On the other hand I have had clients coming to me for therapy that have been diagnosed with depressive disorders or social anxiety disorders that have felt quite stigmatised by their labels.  In the first instance the client was depressed, but then 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from depression at some time in their lives and the majority of sufferers do recover quite well.  I would not personally like to label someone with a mental health disorder because they are depressed.  Regarding the social anxiety diagnosis, I’m sure it won’t be hard for anyone reading this to relate to feelings of anxiety in social situations too.  Years ago you might have described them as shy or introvert not label them with a mental health disorder.  Of course there are extreme cases but even so, a label or therapy?

Another view here is about medication – it might not surprise you to know that 1 in 10 Americans are on anti-depressants according to Harvard Health Publications.  Clearly diagnosis is of benefit to the pharmaceutical industry.

Many counsellors won’t even work with people that have a diagnosis or if they are also under psychiatrists which results in many people being left in the NHS system, 1 appointment every 3-4 months, feeling abandoned and very much on their own with the problem.

The other problem about diagnosis and labels is they quite often have to be declared on medical forms which gives the insurance industry the excuse to put up your premiums.  Or alternatively on job application forms which might affect (rightly or wrongly) your chances of getting the job.

I’m not saying I have the answers here but I would say if you have tried self-help and still feel bad then seek professional therapy.  If that doesn’t work then ask your counsellor to refer you back to the GP for more investigations.  Just don’t rush to be diagnosed!

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2 thoughts on “Is getting a diagnosis a good idea?

  1. Laura P.

    Excellent post…we all (clients & therapists alike) are SO much more than a diagnosis…
    We all are people…living life as best as we can…doing the best with the resources we have… Life is hard…but we were never promised a calm passage…but a safe landing…

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