There are countless discussions, arguments, and opinions out there in the psychology world about whether or not mental illness diagnoses are helpful or detrimental to the individual. I’m torn and I think that my official opinion is… It depends. One thing that I’ve come across in my work as a counsellor is clients who have told me about mental illness labels or diagnosis they have been given by said psychiatrist, psychologist etc. and the diagnosis itself has become a significant source of distress, and reason for therapy… especially if they believe the diagnosis is downright wrong.

Let’s say you went to see a psychiatrist, spent an hour or so answering a series of questions the doctor asks, and at the end of the session he or she tells you that you have narcissistic personality disorder. So you must, right? They’re the expert, right? But let’s say that as far as you understand yourself you have always seen yourself as giving, self-sacrificing, loving, caring, and relatively humble… and narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by things like a grandiose sense of self-importance, being interpersonally exploitive, having a lack of empathy for others, and being totally arrogant… it seems a little inconsistent… I’m not sure what transpires in the therapy room when things like this happen, and I know that psychiatrists would never say or do something to intentionally damage someone… but there seems to be something amiss.

I’m not sure if mis-diagnosis or symptom/behaviour mis-interpretation happens often … at least I hope not, but I have worked with clients who have received “expert” diagnosis that they truly do not understand, identify with, or feel they meet the criteria for, but can’t seem to shake the idea that it must be true, and they really don’t know themselves at all… and perhaps never have. After all, it was an expert who gave the diagnosis.

Labelling or diagnosing is very serious business and something we, as mental health practitioners, need to be very sensitive to, and approach with extreme caution… if we believe there is any benefit in approaching it at all.