Gaining a new mental health diagnosis can be experienced in nearly infinite ways (people may experience each diagnosis in new ways constantly), but there are some common reactions that people seem to experience most frequently.
It is not uncommon for people who receive a mental health diagnosis to go through a period of mourning when adjusting to the idea of being labeled as having a “mental health disorder.” Unfortunately, some diagnoses are used in popular culture as insults. Just having a diagnosis or being in therapy at all is sometimes derided, which may lead to feelings of shame around getting “professional help” for “issues” (as popular culture sometimes describes mental health counseling).
Dr. Brené Brown says, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgment.” Although there is no shortage of judgment in society, therapy truly has the power to transform, so that feelings of shame are replaced with feelings of acceptance and even self-love. By shedding secrecy and silence in a therapeutic relationship with a counselor who practices a stance of non-judgment, clients can make peace with their journeys, including any diagnoses that may come or go along the way.
Some people also experience gaining a diagnosis as liberating. Despite societal shaming, diagnoses can be beacons of light and healing. They’re healthcare terms used to help people find greater peace and comfort, after all! People who provide mental health services need a way to succinctly communicate patterns of suffering, of experience, of behavior. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) provides a quick, dictionary-like resource full of ways to categorize patterns in these experiences together. This makes treatments easier to research and communicate, and helps mental health workers provide the highest quality of care.
Countless therapy clients have reported feeling validated when a particular form of suffering or behavioral challenge was named by a diagnosis. Clients have reported feeling immense relief, saying things like “It’s not my fault!”; “I knew it!”; “I’m not crazy, because there’s a name for it!” and even “So, there’s hope after all!” Having a name for “it” (for the suffering) means that the individual living with the condition(s) is not to blame for things outside of their control. It means that people are not “broken” just because they’re experiencing a type of suffering that perhaps not everybody experiences. And when we know what "it" is, we can work together on therapeutic change to relieve suffering.
In the case of conditions with a major biological component, like ADHD and bipolar disorder, a diagnosis can vastly improve the way that prescribing professionals like psychiatrists and nurse practitioners offer medications, which, particularly paired with the right therapy, can provide life-changing, world-renewing relief. For example, for people with bipolar disorder, the right mood stabilizers combined with therapy can alter how frequently and intensely they experience depressive lows and manic highs, as well as improving the skills needed to monitor the condition and stay on top of symptoms.
Your therapist should work with you on your diagnosis; it should be a collaborative process. Good therapists don't use diagnoses to pigeonhole clients, but instead use them to liberate, heal and empower.
Written by Lindsay Meagher-Swanson
You can contact Lindsay here.