“You can’t get help until you admit you have a problem.” “If only he would accept that he has _________, then he could start helping himself.” “If she just said she had (insert label here), then she could be on her journey toward healing.”
Have we heard folks say this before, or maybe said this, ourselves?
WARNING LABEL: or I suppose I should write Warning: LABEL.
Some people are very sensitive to labels in certain contexts. Mental health is no different – in fact it may be moreso the case.
The question as a mental health provider, or a client, or even a family member/supporter: Does it really matter? Let’s take a look at an example.
Jeff has a number of signs indicating Major Depressive Disorder: He is having trouble sleeping, doesn’t engage in previously enjoyable activities, and is unmotivated at work. He is reluctant to seek professional assistance for fear that he will be told he is a “Major Depressive”, but really wants to work with a counselor and make some things happen.
This might sound like this:
Jeff: I don’t know, I just don’t feel like myself. I feel so… I just don’t want to do anything.
Spouse: Sally’s brother went to a counselor. She said he had depression. You think that’s what’s going on?
Jeff: Hell no! I’m not depressed, I’m just run down! I just need to figure out what’s going on.
Jeff decides to work with someone who doesn’t focus on what he “has” or “is”, but attends to encouraging what motivation Jeff has in helping himself. He is relieved that he isn’t met with something he has to take home and worry about (a name for it). In fact he feels empowered and is able to focus on his new coping skills and this cool thing called “mindfulness” and has communication tools to help talk about how he feels to his spouse.
Yes, a bit of a fairy-tale vignette, but surely it illustrates how focusing on the issues (sleep, what makes him happy, etc.) instead of what he “has” (labels of major depression) can help. We can get to the meat and potatoes of the issue instead of engaging in what surely would be a resistant and perhaps futile attempt to “make him see” what he has.
He wants to do something about it, let’s do it. In fact, once he is more comfortable with the idea of using words to describe what’s happening (label) perhaps he’ll warm up to the idea and say it himself (lot’s of benefits in letting him come to this conclusion, btw).
To be fair, some folks like a label. It helps to make sense of what may feel like a chaotic experience. If we can say, “oh, that makes sense, I’m not alone because there is a name for it,” it can be quite a demystifying and relaxing experience. The idea is to be open to what they need/want, what is most helpful for them in feeling empowered and confident in helping, themselves.
A quick alternative story: Let’s say we really want someone to admit they are an alcoholic because we truly believe this is the ONLY first step. We spend tons of time and energy pushing them to say the words. After many months (or perhaps years!) and several relapses, they say the words. What do we have now that we didn’t have before? Isn’t motivation to do something about it (the issue of concern) the most important piece?
Perhaps what we should be LOOKING (not pushing) for is signs of motivation. After all, “I want to change”, speaks volumes about where they’re able go. Be ready to encourage and support when you hear things like this.