The Diagnosis Dialogue Continues

In my March post (Abnormal? Unusual? Who Decides?) I wrote about a controversial topic in the field of psychology — the pending publication of the American Psychiatric Association’s new manual of psychiatric diagnoses, the DSM 5. Much of the controversy and ensuing dialogue centers around new diagnoses (and changes to old ones) that are potentially harmful to us and our families. As a community therapy center, the Social Therapy Group wanted to include ordinary Americans in this dialogue — and not just leave it up to the "experts," the psychiatrists and psychologists, to debate such issues, which can affect people’s lives in profound ways. Our staff of therapists and clinical interns have been out on the streets of Brooklyn, New York interviewing the community about mental health diagnosis. We quickly discovered that people from all walks of life were eager to talk to us and really care about these issues — especially about children getting psychiatric diagnoses. Here’s some of what we’ve been hearing.

A majority of the folks we talked with feel that it is damaging to children to be labeled as mentally ill, that it stigmatizes them, and that they often internalize the label and feel the diagnosis defines them as damaged and sick. People were concerned that these labels then follow children, often for the rest of their lives. Many people expressed serious concerns about the stigma associated with psychiatric diagnosis, and most felt that there are many ways to get help with emotional problems other than getting a psychiatric diagnosis, suggesting "talk therapy” and other activities, including talking to friends and family.

In addition to our survey we spoke to a number of our social therapy clients. These are people who have chosen to be in a non-diagnostic therapy, and across the board they had strong feelings about psychiatric diagnosis. They overwhelmingly endorsed the growth-producing activity of social therapy group-building. "It's liberating,” one person said. “There's a lot of possibility in creating new things and new emotionality as a collective. Diagnosis is individual and self-absorbing, but creating in social therapy is not individual and not in your head." Most people questioned the scientific validity of psychiatric diagnosis, pointing out that it’s more political than pure science, and driven by money and power. Several people said that being in a social therapy group helped them be more connected to other people, and to stop labeling themselves and others. One person commented that giving up the comfort of having a label for everything was very demanding; that social therapy "actually asks me to do work and develop."

I want to continue to stimulate this important dialogue. Please share your thoughts in the comments. We’re also making this survey available online to give you and thousands of others the opportunity to participate and make your voices heard. Below is the link to the survey. Please participate, and forward it to friends and colleagues as well. At the end of the survey, you also have the option to join our international network by providing your contact information. I welcome your participation.

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Take the survey HERE