In January of this year I earned my Level 1 Certification in TEAM-CBT, making me one of only three therapists in the Houston area with TEAM-CBT Certification. I have received training on use of this approach with children and adolescents as well as adults, and am continuing to participate in training and consultation in using TEAM with both populations as I work toward higher levels of certification.
I’ve had this list written for a while and recently read an article in the New Yorker that inspired me to finally send it out (I’ll post a link to the article on https://www.Facebook.com/HoustonFamilyPsychology).
If you’ve been struggling emotionally, you may wonder if you have a mental health problem. Some people seek psychological treatment because they want a diagnosis to help them understand their experiences, while a desire to avoid diagnostic labels keeps others from seeking professional help. Whether you are looking for a diagnosis or trying to avoid one, it’s important to understand the potential advantages, as well as drawbacks, to getting a psychological diagnosis.
A diagnosis can help you get insurance coverage: If you have mental health coverage, the only way to get reimbursement it is by having a diagnosis. If you’ve ever used health-insurance to pay for mental health services, you’ve been given a diagnosis. I find that some providers discuss this more openly with patients than others.
A diagnosis can help you understand what’s going on: The symptoms of mental health problems can often feel confusing and distressing. Having a name for these symptoms can help make sense of your experiences. For some diagnoses, such as OCD, recognizing and labeling the problem can be an important part of the treatment.
Knowing what your diagnosis is can help you communicate more efficiently about your experience and access information for self-help such as books, websites, and support groups.
A diagnosis can help you feel less alone: For some people, knowing that other people have faced similar difficulties, can feel like a huge relief and ease the sense of isolation that can come from thinking there’s something uniquely wrong with you. Being able to put a label on your symptoms puts you in a category of having experiences that other people have also had.
A diagnosis may protect you from discrimination and help you gain access to resources or accommodations in a school or work setting under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Having the label of a diagnosis can make it feel like there’s something bad or wrong about you, which makes some people feel worse—like they are powerless to get better and are at the mercy of the problem. This can interfere with recovery.
Although it may be decreasing somewhat, there can still be a stigma associated with having a diagnosis of mental illness, and the risk of people discounting your experiences or seeing you as a label rather than a unique person. This stigma can persist after people have recovered and no longer meet criteria for the diagnosis.
Within any given diagnosis, there are varying degrees of severity that are not addressed by most diagnostic labels. They tend to be seen as “all or nothing” problems and can sometimes over-pathologize human emotions and behaviors, which can also lead to over-medication.
A diagnosis provides limited information: For some problems, two people with the same diagnosis might have almost completely different sets of symptoms. On the other hand, someone with one core problem that shows up in many ways in their life could wind up with multiple diagnoses based on their symptom presentation.
A diagnosis does not necessarily give us a treatment plan. Treatment still needs to be tailored to each individual’s symptoms and desired goals, and many of the most advanced treatments can be effective across multiple diagnoses. For example, treatment approaches for most anxiety and depressive disorders are often similar.
As you can see, there are multiple reasons for and against getting a diagnosis. If you are struggling to pay for mental healthcare, and getting a diagnosis would allow for insurance coverage, it may be helpful to you, but it’s important to recognize that a diagnosis isn’t always necessary, or relevant, for getting help. When relevant, we may discuss diagnosis as a way of helping you better understand your symptoms or access additional help, but getting diagnosis does not solve the problem. Whether you get a diagnosis or not, it is always my recommendation to focus on the specific symptoms you are experiencing and your personal goals, not the label. Any mental health professional you meet with should be willing to discuss your thoughts about receiving a diagnosis during your sessions.
In Psychology Tip of the Week #2 I mentioned that “it can feel like proof that I’m bugging people” if anyone unsubscribes after receiving my blog posts. I chose these words carefully because, while it “can” feel that way, it doesn’t have to. The fact is, I don’t know why any given person might choose to unsubscribe, and while it is possible that some people feel “bugged,” others likely have other reasons.
It can be easy to read intentions into other people’s behavior, but it’s also a common thinking error that tends to make us feel bad without good reason. It’s called “mind reading.” When we engage in mind reading, we often assume whatever we fear is true. If someone doesn’t return a text, for example, it can be easy to think that person is mad at you and feel anxious, or that they’re being rude and feel mad, or that they don’t want to be friends anymore and feel sad. If you tend to be anxious, you may often assume people don’t like you or are mad at you.
This week, catch yourself making assumptions about what other people are thinking and see if there may be an alternative explanation.
After deciding to give your inboxes a little break , I’m back with psychology tip of the week #2. Turns out there was some kind of technical glitch that resulted in tip #1 being sent out 5 times in a week. Yikes! Here’s hoping the glitch has been fixed! In the spirit of making the most of what life brings, this week’s tip was inspired by the that glitch.
I have a confession to make. I feel anxious every time I post or send out a newsletter. I worry that I might inadvertently say something that would put people off or that I’m bugging people, and whenever someone unsubscribes, it can seem like proof that those worries are true.
Enter Psychology Tip of the Week #2: Face your fears. Avoidance increases anxiety while facing fears decreases them. I feel a little less anxious each time I send out a new post. The more regularly I post, the better. The longer I wait, the more the anxiety creeps back in. That glitch forced me to face my anxiety about bugging people head-on and my worst-case fears did not come true. This week, challenge your worry thoughts by facing something you feel anxious about.
Our minds are more powerful than most of us give them credit for. One of the most amazing things about our minds is how our thoughts can not only influence our feelings and interactions with the world, but physically change the structure of our brains! Even seemingly small shifts in the way we think or act can lead to significant improvement in our wellbeing and satisfaction with life. Introducing “Psychology tip of the week.” Each tip is designed to give you something small to work on to improve your quality of life. I encourage you to treat each one as an experiment—try it out for a week and see how it feels, then continue using the ones that work best for you.
Tip 1: “What ifs” cause anxiety that can rob today of its joy over fear of something potentially bad (that may or may not actually happen) in the future. In some cases, this fear feels worse than it would feel if the “bad” thing actually happened. This week, try focusing on “what is” instead of “what if…?”
Few things are more stressful than natural disasters. They are unpredictable, often happen with little notice or time for preparation, and feel completely out of our control. For this reason, I often use the “hurricane example” when teaching stress management techniques—particularly the importance of differentiating what you can and cannot control, making a plan to control what you can, and coping with the emotions of what you can’t.
Are you and anxious parent? I know what it’s like to lay awake at night worrying. Do you? Worrying about whether you’re doing the right thing for your kids or doing enough for your kids. You might be worrying about your child’s future and how they will be able to make it in this world, or how they will be judged by others.
Doing your best is not a reason to stop trying. It's possible to be doing your best and try to do better. With continued effort, your best can improve over time.