How useful is it to put a name to your experiences? Whether your therapist gives you a mental health diagnosis depends on several factors.
You might assume that an integral part of working with a therapist involves receiving a diagnosis, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Different therapists have varying views and approaches when diagnosing — or not diagnosing — their clients. Some might prefer using general terms to describe the individual’s symptoms, while others prefer to provide an official medical diagnosis.
A diagnosis may be beneficial to guide your treatment process and insurance coverage, but there are also downsides.
A diagnosis is the name of a condition a medical professional assigns your experience based on your symptoms.
Though a diagnosis may help you and your therapist determine appropriate treatment options, it doesn’t define you as a person. It identifies a group of specific symptoms and is merely one step in the therapy process.
When it comes to mental illness, professionals typically determine a diagnosis by performing a psychological evaluation and asking about your history. Some therapists will order special tests to rule out other medical conditions.
Mental health experts usually refer to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), which includes specific criteria for various mental health conditions.
Whether or not your therapist diagnoses mental health conditions depends on different factors, including both of your preferences.
Some clients push for an official diagnosis, and others don’t. And some therapists feel a diagnosis is an important part of the treatment process, while others view putting a name to the symptoms as unnecessary or, in some cases, harmful.
Additionally, the type of therapist you see might play a role in whether you receive a diagnosis.
For instance, a psychiatrist, a medical doctor trained to assess mental health disorders, may have more confidence making a diagnosis than a mental health professional with different qualifications.
Even though simply putting a name to your symptoms won’t cure them, some experts believe it’s a valuable part of the therapy process.
It can be important for a therapist to provide a diagnosis for several reasons:
- they may not be adequately trained to treat the needs of certain diagnoses
- diagnoses are needed for insurance coverage for both parties
- serious mental health conditions need to be identified to move forward in the best interest of the client for their safety
Getting a mental health diagnosis may help you and your therapist choose suitable treatments for your condition and identify potential health risks down the road. The theory is you can’t effectively treat a condition if you don’t first identify what it is.
A diagnosis can also be helpful when it comes to getting the most out of your health insurance plan. Many companies require a doctor’s diagnosis before covering or reimbursing your treatment costs.
A diagnosis is also required to qualify for job protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Social Security disability support.
Suppose a therapist believes you have a condition that medication could help. In that case, they may diagnose you or refer you to a psychiatrist for diagnosis to help you get a prescription.
Some people feel that a diagnosis can be a damaging or stigmatizing label that will follow them for many years. Others worry that the diagnosis will be incorrect and that it will be more difficult to seek out an accurate diagnosis in the future.
In some situations, therapists won’t provide a diagnosis because they don’t think it’s essential to the recovery process. Many professionals believe that labels can cause clients to concentrate on the wrong aspects of their mental health condition.
Some of the reasons cited by the study authors included a belief that the condition is untreatable and an unwillingness to make a diagnosis of a condition associated with stigma.
You have specific rights when disclosing your diagnosis as a client receiving therapy.
For example, it’s your right to ask your therapist to tell you if they believe you have a mental health condition. If you want a diagnosis, you can ask your therapist upfront. The same applies if you don’t want to hear about this information.
Additionally, under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) law, conversations and information you share with your provider about your care or treatment are considered protected.
If you feel uneasy about your therapist’s diagnosis style, you may consider getting a second opinion or finding another clinician more suited to meet your needs.
Getting a mental health diagnosis can be useful for your therapy plan. But some therapists and clients prefer not to discuss or focus on this aspect of care.
It can help to talk with a therapist about the pros and cons of labeling your experience so you can decide whether knowing your diagnosis will be helpful in your situation.
A diagnosis is only one piece of the puzzle, and it doesn’t define you. If you think your diagnosis is incorrect or has changed, you and your provider may want to reevaluate your condition. A mental health diagnosis can be refined over time.