What Diagnoses Are & Aren't


Photo Credit: Unsplash

By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT


Our society has a very conflicted relationship with labels.

On the one hand, we like them! It would be very hard to shop for our food and our items every day if they weren't labeled, especially when it comes to source, or freshness, or ingredients. We need information to navigate our everyday life.


On the other hand, we have damaging labels, things that are more grey, more confusing, often degrading or misleading or add on expectations that are not always accurate to reality.


For example, the idea of the "nuclear" family as being the "norm" has not always been the way that families were structured - but to this day, it persists as the dominant figure of a "balanced" family. Most of us understand, at least logically, that families take many different forms, composed of different relationships and roles, apart from gender. And even a family that looks the "same" on the outside may be very different on the inside.


Diagnoses in mental health can be misunderstood in a similar way.

We may feel that if we are labeled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, a personality disorder, etc. that it comes with a 'life-sentence'. It feels as though your life has been funneled down a path you never wanted to go.


And then, once we have the diagnosis, we think: ah, I have anxiety. And so this must be how I am. And this must mean I will *never" be able to take care of myself. I have depression, and this means I am not going to live a life I enjoy. I have a personality disorder, so people automatically turn away from me or don't like me.

Diagnoses, at their core, are meant to be used as a way to understand how to reach for wellness.

If our mental health professional is seeing us as a human being, then their recommendations and guidance around our diagnosis becomes a window into the path toward a life we choose rather than a life that just "happens" to us.


Our diagnosis, in a way, becomes a key to unlock the mysteries of our own behavior.

Yes, it can be used poorly; yes, a diagnosis can be used to discriminate or put people in a box, diminish their behavior into "just anxiety" or "just a phase" or that they "act this way because of their trauma" without understanding the gravity of such an influence on someone's life. These are misinterpretations and ignorance in what mental health truly is.


Each of us have a body and a brain; each of our bodies and brains are doing what it thinks is best to keep us alive, connect us to others, and align with our values. When we understand ourselves better, with the lens of a diagnosis or not, we can begin to grow in ways we never imagined possible.


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