Starting the Counseling Process
So often people enter counseling with some fear and trepidation around what exactly the clinician might say. Am I ‘normal’? Am I the only person experiencing challenges to my way of being in the world? These are universal questions those of us who struggle with such challenges ask ourselves. Often the relief of a diagnosis explaining what those challenges mean can be a welcome answer to our questions. There are, however, important issues to consider when dealing with a diagnosis.
First, it is imperative to remember that a diagnosis is consensual. A client must agree to be evaluated by a clinician, and that clinician must exercise responsibility when assigning a diagnosis to a client. He or she must not only be qualified (i.e. have the appropriate training, credentials, and expertise) to assess and diagnose properly. In addition to that, the clinician must also remain aware throughout the diagnostic process of the stigma that unfortunately may still surround particular diagnoses. This is part of the reason that the establishment of trust within the therapeutic alliance is so vital. Clinicians assess and diagnose based on the information collected during an intake and in subsequent sessions. When a client trusts his or her clinician enough to be totally honest, a clinician has the most accurate data available to make a clinically sound diagnosis.
Understanding the Whole Person
Second, it is incumbent upon clinicians to refrain from what we call ‘reductionism.’ This can be conceptualized for our purposes as ‘reducing’ a client to a collection of diagnoses rather than viewing the person in a holistic manner. When we speak of holism in the mental health field, we are referring to the person as multifaceted. Clinicians must attend to several dimensions of wellness: emotional, physical, spiritual, psychological, social, and vocational, just to name a few. When we view the person as a multidimensional being in the context of their environment, we attend to each of that person’s needs.
Clinical Benefits of a Diagnosis
Third, a diagnosis can be utilized as a kind of ‘short hand’ with which members of a multidisciplinary clinical team discuss a client’s challenges. Because a diagnosis is essentially a collection of symptoms one experiences, it facilitates communication between clinicians who are familiar with the symptomatology that accompanies each diagnosis.
Diagnoses have what we refer to as criteria. When these criteria are met by a client and a diagnosis is assigned, clinicians have a greater sense of what challenges might look like for an individual. Imagine if a mechanic had no lingo for the various parts of a car engine; dialoguing with another mechanic might be difficult if there were no common vocabulary with which to communicate! The same can be said of diagnostic terminology: it gives clinicians a vernacular from which to draw. Additionally, insurance companies require diagnostic codes when determining benefits and coverage for treatment of mental health concerns. Diagnoses comprise the foundation of the universal clinical language providers utilize.
Normalizing and Instilling Hope
Finally, a diagnosis has the power to normalize the challenges we experience as well as to instill hope in the individual. How often have we all been told that there is strength in numbers? There is more power in connecting with one another than there is in the isolation that suffering in silence can engender. When a client receives a diagnosis, there is some freedom in the discovery that—yes—someone else is struggling with similar concerns. That discovery is potent in its ability to unify. When we finally abolish the stigma around discussing mental health issues, we create room for the establishment of that connection. The knowledge that we do not suffer alone, that no man is an island, is perhaps the ultimate panacea. If you would like to speak with an experienced clinician about a challenge you are experiencing, do not hesitate to reach out to us. You can contact us here.