DIRT FROM THE ROOTS 1: DIAGNOSES
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Dirt From The Roots, the official Connected Roots blog.
My name is Nick Serro, and I have recently had the honor of joining on the Connected Roots team as an individual psychotherapist. Additionally, I will serve as your trusty scribe here in outlining some of the most important, intriguing, and innovative topics within mental health, social work, psychology, and really any other realm that may be relevant to the complex puzzle which we call life.
My main goal is to spread awareness of some of the most fascinating and underreported areas of psychology which I have stumbled into throughout my journey as a clinician, and hopefully can give you a bit more of a feel for our perspectives and values here at Connected Roots in the process!
TOPIC OF THE MONTH
“Society exists only as a mental concept;
in the real world there are only individuals.”
Oh yes, diagnosis. The term alone can bring relief to some, panic to others, and certainly holds a large share of stigma regardless.
We can safely say that this is a loaded word-- But why?
Well, that answer depends on a multitude of factors that differ based on who is asking.
From the perspective of us clinicians, there is a natural contradiction in the necessity to utilize the evidence-based research that we have for treatment while also acknowledging that every individual is a complex and unique combination that could never fall 100% under one category as well as the little quirk that these strategies just might not work. From a broader sense, we must understand the infinitely-growing nature of how we understand mental health. While this is reflected by the continuous updates of the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition), swift changes also create a need for a critical eye when utilizing the manual.
From the perspective of clients, receiving a diagnosis can feel impersonal, incorrect, or even attacking in some cases. Certain diagnoses hold more notoriety than others, and these can become heavily stigmatized and judged by others to a level that could potentially even become oppressive. While we can see the great value in individuals finding relief after discovering that they can now label a previously mysterious and daunting aspect of their lives, we can also be quick to forget just how generalized diagnoses are, and risk continuation of the ambiguity if there is a symptom under our condition that we do not identify with.
Our easiest comparison-- medical diagnoses-- are pretty cut and dried. Let’s use the example of when we break our leg: others can outwardly see the issue, and not only will they recommend we see a professional, but that is likely our only option to proceed with from a pain and mobility standpoint. We can isolate the issue exclusively to the part of the bone that has broken, and we can confidently expect that not putting weight down, physical therapy exercises, and time will heal the bone back to where it was before. Assuming we have access to a doctor, this treatment plan will work regardless of our personal intricacies, SES, current relationships, and countless other factors.
Unfortunately, a mental health diagnosis just does not have comparable traits to this example. Taking a spectrum approach to the DSM, we must view clients not as a binary “yes” or “no” in regards to diagnosis, but rather look at symptoms being reported independently while assessing how those symptoms are affecting quality of life. Stigma, along with lack of a clearcut distress threshold, may become barriers to clients seeking treatment in the first place. We must account that the exact same issue may have easily-implemented coping responses for one individual while being the most detrimental barrier for another who finds themselves struggling to discover effective coping mechanisms. We also must account that no single issue could ever be isolated exclusively when it comes to the incomparable intricacies of our brains. Healing mentally is not reverting to where we were before- it is an acceptance and adjustment to a new, changed perspective.
It is not hard to see how the ambivalence and complexities of a mental health diagnosis can become disorienting, but the reality is that we clinicians need to apply one to each individual for both practical as well as legal purposes when practicing therapy.
With such an impossible degree of nuance and precision, how can we look at diagnoses through a lens that is not black-and-white yet still concrete?
One approach to reframing diagnosis is simply taking a much more normalized view towards the concept. While we may not have control over societal stigmas, we do have ability to gain more understanding and comfort within ourselves when looking at things from an individual perspective. Even in the case of a person with perfect mental health-- a condition which neither I nor any of the professionals I have worked with over the duration of my life have seen to this point-- we all unfortunately face the risk of issues such as grief, trauma, and burnout throughout the entirety of our lives. Instead of viewing diagnoses as specific conditions happening to specific people, it may be more helpful to see them as something that everyone qualifies for, and an assessment of where an individual falls on a universal series of spectrums rather than a label defining what someone is.
Another approach to reframing is viewing conditions in line with other aspects of life that hold more comparable qualities. Instead of viewing a diagnosis like we view our physical traits-- someone who has blue eyes objectively has blue eyes-- we can look at them more similarly to our personality traits. If I were to ask 10 of your friends your eye color, I would expect the same answer every time. But if I were to ask 10 of your friends to describe your personality, I would expect similar, but individually different answers. There is an objectively true or false answer to your eye color, but this is not the case when describing how you are overall. While we can surely get a general idea of ourselves after hearing 10 accounts of our personality, no one account could possibly be all-encapsulating as a single description. Diagnosis is not a permanent measurement, it is an informed and ongoing assessment of complex patterns.
Finally, and perhaps most effectively, discussing a diagnosis with your therapist is the most direct way to understand how both you and the professional feel about the concept. From a personal standpoint, I feel that it is very important that there is open communication and collaboration for the most effective treatment plan, and this includes a discussion about diagnosis perceptions.
In the end, there may be truth to the old term “everyone has something”. The word “Diagnosis” may always hold burdening, limiting, stigmatizing, or other negative properties, but identifying our symptoms is merely the first step forward personal growth
WHAT’S COOKING FOR NEXT MONTH
Next month, I will dive into a near-unbiased, 25-year long, worldwide psychological experiment on life perspectives which offers intriguing and effective solutions on how to create understanding on differences between even the most oppositional worldviews that humans may have.
At Connected Roots, our three core pillars are connection, grounding, and confidence.
We share dedication to creating nonjudgmental and safe spaces where clients can
express themselves authentically and reach their goals.
For more information on Connected Roots or Nick Serro, please visit our website or contact us at 720-593-1062.