One of the most amazing things my counselor did for me when I was visiting him was spend more time talking to me about the difficulties I needed help with rather than trying to force me to accept any form of diagnosis. Rather than use diagnoses as labels and boxes to categorize me, he used them as tools to help him guide me along a path to the life I wanted to live. We talked about the things that mattered, my desire to die but my need to live, my relationships that were falling apart, the anger, the pain, the arguments, the abuse.
Only once in the times that I spent in his office did he ever speak of a diagnosis. Even then, he wasn’t giving it to me as something to accept or own, he was offering a resource, a book about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He never once said to me, you have PTSD, and you need to learn to live with it. He did, however, offer me information to help me better understand myself and how to overcome the obstacles in my life.
The other time I remember he could have labeled me with a diagnosis was when I returned to him a few years later with trouble sleeping, eating, and coping with another abuse I had long tried to bury and ignore. He advised that he felt medications could help me manage my feelings and get back to a level place. We negotiated, we talked about benefits, we talked about my reluctance to be dependent on medications, and we discussed my concern that taking medications would only mask the things that needed work in my life and make me less driven to do the work. Yet, he never once said, you have Clinical Depression, and you will need to take medications to get better. Instead, he offered me the choice to find my own path through herbal supplements (which is really medicating, but I felt more in control) and therapy.
My counselor also never said, we are going to use CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to help you learn how to manage the symptoms of your Depression, PTSD, and Anxiety. However, working in the mental health field and better understanding the types of therapy that exist, I can look back and know that is the type of therapy he chose to use. He also never told me, we are going to use autogenics to help you manage your Anxiety. Instead, he offered a script to help me relax (pause my brain) so I could sleep at night.
Recovery isn’t about being labeled with a diagnosis. It’s not even about learning to live with a diagnosis. It is about understanding who you are, the challenges you face, and finding the determination to overcome them. Diagnoses are guides to help professionals pick the right set of tools to guide you through the process of recovery. They can help you make better choices about your recovery by helping you understand how your brain and body function and some of the challenges you are experiencing. However, recovery isn’t about accepting that your life has to be limited or defined by a diagnosis, it’s about accepting the challenge to use those difficulties to make something better of yourself.