One of the things that sometimes happens in therapy is the therapist assigns a diagnosis or a label to a problem that comes up. Receiving a label can be a relief or it can be tremendously disheartening to hear you have a problem, a disability or something about you isn’t “normal”. Recently I, myself, received a label which caused some emotion. I thought it would be helpful to talk about the natural feelings that come with being labeled as well as a healthy way to respond when a label is part of the therapeutic process.
When your therapist or psychiatrist or other professional gives you a label it’s very normal to feel limited or that now things that were possible are not possible. Even though this feels true it is not true! Labels do not determine your future or what you are or are not capable of. Sometimes labels make things more possible because now there are strategies, ways or supports available to help cope with the problem. Understanding is always better than confusion, clarity is always better than darkness even when it may be hard to hear the name or cause of the problem.
Labels also can cause a feeling of “separateness” or “difference”. When there is a label applied to something about you it can cause the label to become personal and that you now are “not normal”. Using a label to identify a problem is necessary, however people are more than just a problem. Everyone has problems! Some people’s problems have specific names and others don’t. If your problem happens to have a name this is no different than a problem that does not have a specific diagnosis. Everyone has issues and problems some people are willing to bring them to light and accept that those specific problems may result in some type of label.
One last reminder is about who we are and who we are not. People are always first, labels just describe things about them. Depression, anxiety, or any other diagnosis is an identification of the problem not who you are. Those labels are things about you but are not an identity or even what you need to be known by. Don’t be trapped by a label, it just describes a set of traits or features. Identity is who you are, not a list of labels.
Part of the therapeutic process sometimes involves giving a diagnosis or labels. Rather than taking this lightly I wanted to specifically speak to the emotional experience this creates. If you end up with a label don’t allow it to limit you, make you feel different, or define your identity. Every person is created unique with their own challenges and gifts. Labels describe problems or clinical traits that are grouped together and that is their only function. Having emotions and having a hard time being labeled is a normal thing and a wonderful thing to let your counselor know you are experiencing.
Talking about all the emotions around being labeled is a healing thing. Once you can speak about it you are already moving into not allowing labels to define you.