By Jennifer FauntLeRoy, M.D.
“You’re labeling me!” is a common enough lament, especially for my younger patients, when I propose a diagnosis of Bipolar/ Schizophrenia/ Asperger/ Personality Disorder, etc. My reply goes something like this:
Any diagnosis is a “working hypothesis,” or a name for what ails you. Think of it as a suit of clothes we try on for size. Even if it “fits” now it may not fit forever, as you grow and your personal “weather” and body shape changes. Your diagnosis or “label” is not who you are, but it is where you are in this moment.
The biggest mistake I see people coming into therapy make is trying to start where they wish they were and not where they actually are. Of course “nothing has worked” in the past because they kept trying to build a house without starting at the ground floor.
Shifting Names and Diagnoses
I hear all the time the frustration of patients and families because of shifting names and diagnoses. “What is actually the diagnosis?” is a common theme in conference calls I have with Spring Lake Ranch parents.
It is easy to experience a psychiatrist’s answers as vague, evasive, and slippery when we give “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” answers. But, that is partly because we know the power of the label to define a young person’s whole future and how they see themselves if we’re not careful or are trying to push through a firewall of denial to get to that “ground floor.”
Helping someone get his/her feet on the ground with self-awareness and hope for a good future is what we’re aiming for, regardless of the name or label that turns out to be the “best fit.”
It’s far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has. — Hippocrates
Diagnostic labels for mental health conditions are not always useful, by Bhismadev Chakrabarti, The Conversation, University of Reading
The Autism Diagnosis That Isn’t Always Permanent, by Sumathi Reddy, Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2019:
Jennifer FauntLeRoy, M.D.
Since 2006, Dr. FauntLeRoy has been the treating psychiatrist at Spring Lake Ranch Therapeutic Community.