Dear Random Off-Duty Therapist: Should I Ask My Therapist What My Diagnosis Is?

Susan Saybrook

Susan Saybrook is the pseudonym for an off-duty therapist. Go figure.

So, should you ask your therapist about your diagnosis?

Welllllll. That depends.

First, you should know what a mental health diagnosis is and isn’t. Some people think a diagnosis is some sort of answer to a puzzle that is really a person. But a diagnosis is descriptive, not explanatory. In other words, it’s just a list of things that you reported or showed about yourself, grouped into a particular category and given a name. It’s a therapists’ short-hand, so if different mental health professionals see the same person, they have a shared vision of at least some of what seems to be going on.

Like, is there a problem with the mood, the thinking, or both?

Did something that happened set it off?

Has it been going on a long time, or a short time?

Does it affect the person’s functioning? How so? And how much?

It’s also the secret code that a therapist sends your insurance company, if you are using insurance to pay for your therapy, so they see you as having a Legitimate Medical Issue and Need (hopefully) and will therefore pay your therapist for working with you (again, hopefully).

In other words, it may be more valuable or interesting to health care providers and insurance companies than it is to you.

Are there some good reasons for knowing your diagnosis?

Sure. It can tell you how your therapist sees you, point you and your therapist in the direction of treatments shown to help with your particular condition, and reassure you of the fact that you are not alone with aspects of your experience. In fact, you are so not alone that there’s a name in a book for what you are going through. If you find it helpful to learn about the diagnosis and how others have been helped or have helped themselves, you might actually find it empowering.

Are there some good reasons for not knowing your diagnosis?

Absolutely. It can be an error to begin with, some therapist’s wrong read on what’s going on with you (we’re fallible, believe me!). It can make you feel like you have an illness, whereas not all things that bring people to see therapists amount to having an illness. It can be a diagnosis you have negative beliefs about, which can affect your self esteem. It can make you feel pigeon-holed. It can make you feel like damaged goods.

So, pop quiz. Is there one good one-size-fits-all answer to this question?

No way. Because it really is about the individual person and situation, and the bigger picture.

Some questions to ask yourself or revisist:

Was it your decision that you should go to therapy?

Do you trust the therapist you’re seeing?

How might a particular diagnosis (or more than one) affect you?

Will anyone else have access to the information?

Will it help you to better understand your therapy and how your therapist sees you?

How much meaning will you attach to a diagnostic label?

Sadly, there’s still a lot of stigma about mental health concerns, or life issues, or seeking help. This is unfortunate, because often the people who could benefit the most from therapy won’t go, whereas the people who are already self-aware enough to know that they have things to work on feel flawed.

And anyway, there’s a lot that goes into the experience and process of therapy. Your diagnosis? In many instances, that’s maybe the crust of a piece of the pie.

But after reading all this, you might still want to know.

In which case, it is absolutely your right.

Still confused? It might be a valuable discussion to have with your therapist. Who, after all, probably knows you better than some random, off-duty therapist.

Whatever you choose, I hope it helps you in the long run. There are lots of ways to understand one’s self.

The medical model has its value and its place, but it is not the be all and end all.

Carry on.

Susan Saybrook

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Things you might find in this writer's catch-all drawer include: child's artwork, university ID, dog treat, half-written list, & poem on a napkin.

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