A Mental Health Therapist's Take on De-stigmatizing Diagnoses
What if I told you that nothing was inherently wrong with you?
Perhaps you have a visceral reaction to this statement… Like... “UMM excuse me... no… I have diagnosed depression/anxiety/panic disorder/borderline personality disorder/binge eating disorder/ *insert DSM-5 diagnosis here.*”
We are all members of a society that loves labels, and a system that loves pathology. We adhere to the labels that are placed upon us throughout our lives.
As humans, we are compelled to search for meaning, understanding, control. We want to know why we are the way we are, why we feel the way we feel, why we do the things we do. We also exist within the confines of modern-day capitalism, in a healthcare system that benefits off that.
We are vulnerable to labels because in a way, they make things make sense.
The mental health field is situated in an “illness model,” which posits that people are sick, that there is something wrong with them, and that they need “fixing.” The field is infiltrated with pathologies and diagnoses that denote “wrongness” ascribed to a human. These pathologies are unjustly distributed at higher rates to black and brown folks and minority populations. Insurance companies require this pathology to justify their payments. Insurance companies require providers to diagnose and label people in order to even consider contributing to mental health care. For the sake of keeping this brief, I will leave it at this: by keeping people “sick,” insurance and the healthcare system continue to profit off of us.
Well, I don’t buy it. I do not believe that people are inherently sick. I do not believe that there is something wrong with you, with I, with our neighbors. It is the systems that are sick, yes.
I believe that humans all have inner resource, inner goodness, and inner capacity for healing. We all have inner systems that work very, very hard to protect us.
We are all complex humans with complex parts that have experienced certain messages, relationships, environments, and systems. In order to survive and adapt, our parts learn to think, feel, and act in certain ways.
The “alcohol use disorder patient” is actually, first, a human… a human who has endured life thus far, and whose protective system learned that drinking allows for just brief moments of relief from some of their vulnerable and painful memories and emotions. The kid with “generalized anxiety disorder with panic symptoms” is first, again, a human, whose inner system has absorbed that by feeling worried, they feel more in control, like they can kind of “predict” a little bit more about what might happen, which has actually helped them to get through the last few years.
What I am getting at here, is that our “diagnoses” are oftentimes ways of describing the ways that we have had to adapt to complex and “unprecedented,” and downright twisted and formidable situations.
As a therapist, I am a fellow human and a fellow co-explorer in one’s journey to learning about all the ways their system has protected them and gotten them through to this point in time. With this framework to humanity, we can collaborate in a framework that reduces shame and stigma.
So, I will say it again, there is nothing inherently wrong with you (I am aware this is hard to unlearn after a life time of professionals telling you differently, but we will work on it ). In fact, you deserve the utmost compassion. Think of all the ways your parts have protected you – even in extreme measures. Let’s give it up for YOU, for all the amazingly adaptive ways that you have protected yourself thus far.
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