In an age where information is readily available for us to absorb, therapists often find themselves sitting in a room with a new client who is attached to their own self-diagnosis. More often than not, clients will google search their symptoms because they are tired of not knowing why they feel or behave the way they do. They want answers, and rightfully so. Having the language to articulate what is happening within our emotional bodies is a critical piece to working through many of our personal problems.
As a therapist, I view self-diagnoses as a result of the collective feeling misguided and uniformed about mental health and wellness. It is the result of how our social and cultural worlds have created messages on what health and wellness should and should not look like. These messages typically form in an “us” versus “them” dialogue. For example, the image of someone doing yoga is more likely to be associated with positive mental health than the image of someone going out for drinks on a Wednesday night. But who’s to say the person doing yoga isn’t experiencing mental health issues and the person going out for drinks isn’t flourishing? There’s more than meets the eye and one doesn’t always mean the other. Experiences are unique and symptoms should never be generalized.
So, what are the main things to watch out for when looking up the symptoms you are experiencing?
1. Education Versus Attachment
I will always support my clients’ interest in researching their symptoms and experiences. Psychoeducation is a large chunk of the therapeutic experience. As I mentioned earlier, language plays a large role in the healing process. It can help us identify what we feel, why we feel it, how it affects us, and what to do when the feelings arise. Research can include reading books or watching videos that share stories similar to our own. They can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and expose us to individuals and groups that are going through what we’re going through. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to better understand who were are, how we are, and why we are.
The issue begins when we start to label ourselves without seeking professional guidance. Attaching to self-diagnoses can inhibit the type of support we receive. Symptoms can and do overlap between diagnoses. Luckily mental health professionals are trained in how to discern one from the other. However, without the proper assessment, a misdiagnosis can lead to improper treatment. That’s why it is important for individuals seeking therapy to find a therapist that they feel safe with, and are confident in the therapists ability to thoroughly assess their needs.
2. Knowing When to Ask for Help and Where to Go.
Self-diagnoses can inspire individuals to solve mental health problems on their own. Of course, we as therapist want our clients to feel empowered and in control of their lives. We know there is an abundance of self-help resources that can transform an individual’s life without ever stepping into a therapist’s office. What I encourage individuals to pay close attention to is the severity and frequency of their symptoms. Whether it be for suicidal ideation or intent, or determining whether to be medication, it’s important that individuals know when to ask for help and where to go. In many ways, therapists are also a community resource. Even if you’re not in therapy, reach out to your local mental health providers to learn more about the types of support systems in your area.
3. Your Diagnosis Doesn’t Define You
Before you decide to self-diagnose, please know that it does not define you. Stigma surrounding mental illness can lead individuals to believing they are their illness – that if they are experiencing depression that means they are a depressed person. But this line of thought is both limiting and disempowering. Who you are is separate from your mental illness. Many therapist like myself, strive to guide clients towards sitting in the seat of the observer – noticing and observing when and how their mental illness shows up without attaching to it. The goal would be to help our clients create a space for healing, where they can be experiencing a mental illness and still thrive in life. Many books and educational videos promote this as well. Yet, without the proper guidance towards these modes of learning self-diagnoses can easily lead to negative or limiting perceptions of self.
If you have any questions or concerns about your mental health and wellness, reach out to your local mental health providers. If it is an emergency, please call 9-1-1 right away. We are here to serve and support you.