Most people who go to a mental health professional expect to leave their first appointment with a diagnosis of some kind. Such an outcome is reasonable, given that many people who go to a mental health professional correctly recognize that they are in need of outside help. Often times, the help they seek is something that could have been pursued sooner, but embarrassment, feelings of weakness, or preconceived ideas about psychotherapy tell them they should “handle it alone.” Sometimes a diagnosis can be a form of relief because it is an affirmation that “something is wrong.” But not everyone has something wrong with them; sometimes what people need requires little to no clinical interventions all; Life Coaching is often a great fit and so are Concierge Services (added in June 2017). Clinical hypnosis can be effective too (saving time in long term treatment processes).
So why do so many people get a diagnosis? The simple truth is that many people report patterns of behavior that are interpreted by many professionals as symptoms of an illness, rather than as expected responses to life circumstances. Another common reason that mental illness diagnosis occurs so readily has to do with insurance billing.
There are professionals in the mental health arena who do not fully prescribe to the medical model where life issues are perceived as illness, pathology and disorders. Some professionals assess the dynamics of what is happening in a person’s life from what is known as the Strengths Perspective12. From this view, a client is seen as a person who is adapting to life issues using all of the resources that are available to them; to help them does not necessarily require a mental illness diagnosis—and some would argue that by assigning a diagnosis to a set of behavioral patterns, a label becomes the barrier to transformed lives. The strengths perspective is predominantly used by Clinical Social Workers.
Clients who are in a great deal of distress sometimes favor the strengths based approach because it can help them recall abilities that were realized from past trials, and then re-apply the same abilities in the midst of current problems (a solutions oriented approach). When a counselor helps a person realize their strengths (and does not focus only on the symptom checklist in disorders) people generally begin to improve in various areas of social functioning.
To be sure the strengths perspective is only one approach in helping people see lasting change in their lives. It is helpful for people who are considering mental health services to know how a professional has been educated and trained in the use of the strengths model. Lastly, the strengths perspective is seldom sufficient to deny the existence of a true mental illness—and there are real benefits to diagnosing mental disorders, particularly when the diagnosis is critically assessed.
Mental health professionals utilize different methods to determine if something in a person’s life merits clinical intervention. A comprehensive clinical assessment is needed before a diagnosis can be made (or ruled out).