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3 Therapy Techniques That Help Your Clients Transcend Their Labels

A person is so much more than their diagnosis

A person is so much more than a diagnosis

“Hi, I’m Kennedy, I’m an alcoholic!”

But Kennedy hadn’t drunk a drop since high school. He was now 33 and had come to see me not about drinking, but for help with relaxing while flying. I asked him about his alcoholic ‘status’.

“Well, I’m really a recovering alcoholic.” Like many people, Kennedy had been led to believe that an alcoholic is never recovered but can only ever be recovering.

So it appeared that Kennedy had himself fundamentally flagged as having alcoholism rather than as having conquered alcoholism.

And we can understand that it may seem safer to adopt this mindset as a kind of protection against tipping back into alcohol abuse once more.

But framing your whole identity around some diagnosis can be really damaging.

Language can shape our expectations, and our expectations can powerfully shape and prime our experiences. And if we therapists ourselves are not careful, we can make it worse for our clients.

Where is the real you in all of this?

The language of identity is tricky.

When someone has a cold, and gets over it, they are ‘cured’. But when someone has cancer and gets over it, they are said to be ‘in remission’. This implies that it is the state of being cured that is temporary.

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People who experience depression may be described as ‘depressives’. They (and the people around them) develop a whole set of expectations around that identity.

In one piece of research (1) a group of cancer survivors who considered themselves cured did better than a group who thought themselves to be ‘in remission’. The ‘cured’ group were happier, stronger, experienced less pain and functioned better socially.

So it seems that how a patient sees their disease (or even whether they consider it a disease at all, as with alcoholism and depression) can have big implications for how they experience their diagnosis.

Whether someone considers depression or alcoholism a disease which is part of who they are (an attitude strongly encouraged by the pharmaceutical industry) or something that is not integral to their identity and therefore can be mastered can make a lot of difference.

Anyone can contract cancer and fare badly with it, no matter what their attitude. However, there is evidence to show that those who don’t see cancer as who they are fare better than those who come to identify themselves exclusively as ‘cancer patient’. (2)

So what therapy techniques might we gently use to help clients feel that they are more than their ‘condition’?

Here’s 3 therapy techniques that help your clients transcend their labels.

1) Tip One: Frame the condition as a behaviour or temporary current state

You are depressed, you have depression, therefore you are a depressive!

The thinking then goes something like this: Well, If I’m a ‘depressive’ then even when I’m not feeling depressed I still sort of am really! The depression is just biding its time to come back and reclaim its position as head of the household, leader of my life and sole occupier of my soul.

Be mindful of language when discussing your client’s condition.

Kennedy: “I am an alcoholic.” (whole identity)

Me: “So you used to drink and it was a problem back then.” (past, not who he is essentially)

The aim is not to minimize the client’s experience but to gently lead them to a place where they feel stronger than their condition. Which leads us to tip two…

2) Tip Two: Refer to ‘it’ not ‘you’

How does the anorexia convince you that you are too fat?

How does the depression make you view the future?

How does smoking con you into taking it back again when you’ve finished with it?

Not ‘you the smoker’, but ‘it the smoking’.

Talk about 'it' instead of 'you' to separate problem behaviour from core identity. #therapytips

3) Tip Three: Look at life beyond the label

Someone who has constructed (with the help of others) their identity around being ‘a smoker’, or ‘a depressive’ or ‘co-dependent’ or ‘bipolar’ can come to feel as if there is nothing else.

Of course, when treating someone to help them overcome or live better with some problem or difficulty, you do need to ask and talk about it, and so do they. But I think we also need to take great care to avoid deepening their sense of ‘this is who I am’.

I talked to a man who’d smoked 40 cigarettes a day for thirty years starting when he was twelve years old (and he now looked 112!) about his life when he was still eleven.

He imagined, and even half recalled, what it was like to get up in the morning with all kinds of other stuff on his mind other than cigarettes. From this we were able to go on to speak about a future where cigarettes simply had no place.

You might talk to someone who has been depressed about what they do ‘normally’ when they are feeling fine or okay, or what they would do once the depression has gone away.

Kennedy too was and is so much more than someone who used to have a problem with drink.

Labels can be very useful, but they can also shape how we feel, and squeeze and limit our expectations. Labels stick – but they can also be unpeeled.

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

You can get my book FREE when you subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter. Click here to subscribe free now.


  1. See: S. Carson, E. J. Langer, and A. Flodr, ‘Remission vs. cure: the effects of labels on health and well-being’ (awaiting publication).
  2. See: Sarit Ahavah Golub, ‘Optimism, Pessimism, and HIV Risk Behavior: Motivation or Rationalization?’ Harvard University, 2004 (PhD dissertation).

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  • gail riley

    Thank you Mark for such down to earth logical suggestions in your newsletters. I look forward to each one as there is always something of value.

  • Thanks gail I’m glad you find them useful.

  • TdeLem

    very good article. framing labels as “behaviours” vs as “core identity” helps also the patient be more optimistic about being cured – “easier” indeed to change behaviour than identity. thanks mark!

    • Yes that’s exactly what I was trying to communicate in this piece. This is not to say that there is no value in diagnoses at all-there can be, but we all need to be careful we don’t become unduly limited through labelling.

  • Bettye

    I understand the principal but I think you are flirting with real danger when you encourage a person with an addiction to alcohol to tell themselves that it is not a current issue even when they are not currently drinking. You would not do that with someone who is allergic to other substances, such as peanut butter, seafood.

    • Actually I think your metaphor of ‘allergy’ is better than the ‘disease’ metaphor or an all idendity encompassing ‘I am an alcoholic.’.

    • I have to agree with you Bettye. I just made 30 years of continuous sobriety in July of this year. I’m prouder of this accomplishment than anything else I’ve accomplished in life. While I have parts of myself that I identify with (I’m a musician, I’m a mother, I’m a hypnotherapist, I’m a writer, I’m a spiritual being), none of those “labels” defines all of me but they certainly are each an intrinsic part of “me.” I believe that labels can be as helpful as they can be hurtful.

      • Phil Lee

        Great response

    • Karen Johnson

      I agree with Bettye in the case of alcohol, it does behave like an allergy. If we treated it like an allergy instead of a disease people might be empowered to stay away from it. After all, like you said, someone with a peanut allergy would not purposely eat peanut butter. What if someone with “alcohol allergy” were treated with that context instead of “you are an alcoholic”. What changes would we see in people who experience that “allergy”, specifically with their self esteem. I do think labels create a reality that people then live into and the label can make a future that we then live out. Why not use labels to empower people (if we must have labels). We are so much more!

  • Catherine Quayle

    I heartily agree Mark. Yes diagnosis can be useful – its gives us better understanding about clusters of symptoms and behaviors, or even useful research based evidence on what helps most in treatment. But more often than not i see people who have inadvertently framed their whole being around their particular label, I already use your first and third techniques, but I like the idea of using language to separate the problem form the core identity – I’ll be trying this. .. Isn’t it a great feeling when we see clients liberate themselves from their labels!

  • Absolutely love tip 2! Refer to ‘IT’ not to ‘YOU’!. – I will most certainly be adding that to my tool box.

  • Paul Keeling

    Hi I agree with the limitations of labelling, it reduces a person to a dis-ease,career title,political standpoint etc. A w/holistic approach is immediately felt distinctly opposed to a clinical,medical,business,materialist viewpoint. The client senses a difference even if they don’t verbalise it. We are all more than a title/label, even a list of characteristics is inadequate. It would be good to quickly adopt cues that invite an aspirational side that can induce a sense of the positivity and hope which could at least balance the weight carried by dis ease. So many people desperately feel the need for a talking aspect to their healing nowadays with the paradigm being to medicate someone, often before a deeper sense of their need is assessed.
    I disagree with Bettye about the idea of not giving someone a break from their addiction. Sure the addiction can be acknowledged but some encouragement really builds confidence and helps bolster a client’s ability to remain free from their addiction which surely is mainly held in place by feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy etc.
    Thank You Mark, I recieved an e-mail today asking for input. This snippet is my first and hope to share more as and when I can.
    Best regards,

  • James G Springer

    I agree wholeheartedly! I am constantly urging my clients about vocabulary and “self-identification. When a person assumes the identity of their condition they cut off all possibilities for change.

    6 years ago I was diagnosed as morbidly obese, with T2 Diabetes and more than 4 accompanying chronic illnesses. Had I allowed myself to “Self-Identify” with them hope would have been lost and I would most likely be dead, at least according to my doctor. However, I understood that I had been behaving as a morbidly obese person with diabetes and if I changed my behavior I could change my outcome. When I began behaving as a healthy thin person, I was magically transformed. I am now at my ideal weight and asymptomatic on all chronic illnesses. I still “have” diabetes, but my health and my blood numbers do not indicate it. Behavior is key, and vocabulary and self-identification (not allowing yourself to become your label / diagnosis) are critical to success.

    • I’ve only just (after many months) seen your post James. And of course I am incredibly impressed! Talk about walking your talK! I think the importance of the way language shapes expectation and identity lies in not just consciously deciding that “I am not the problem” although that is helpful but in understanding the unconscious effects language can have during everyday thought and communication. How every time someone unconsciously describes their situation, or we describe it back to them, empowering or disempowering associations can be strengthened without us even noticing. Anyone some great comments here and thanks, Mark.

  • Helping a client to identify that they are ‘doing’ a behaviour will also allow them to identify that they have a choice and can therefore move away from that behaviour. I ‘do’ stress etc is far more beneficial than I am stressed! It provides dissociation and an opportunity to recognise where practical changes can be made. Some labels come from unconscious programming from childhood and are embedded within the client’s language, holding them where they are…leaving them stuck perhaps. A belief will influence the thoughts and thoughts influence emotions and behaviours… so work within the unconscious beliefs (that are expressed though the clients language) and this will help to shift a change. On a personal level…I was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease…should I say ‘I have Crohn’s’ or ‘my body is doing Crohn’s’ at the moment. If I say ‘I have Crohn’s then perhaps I will hold the problem long term, owning it…if I say I my ‘body is doing ‘Crohn’s for some reason’ then I can investigate why and make changes to move away from this problems. I am empowered!

  • UnwindYourMind

    I use the ‘it’ not ‘you’ phrasing a lot and find it really motivating. I think it’s important to talk about all the other bits that make a person, rather than focusing on the problem ‘being’ the person.

  • Phil Lee

    Labels can also be attached to positive behaviours but strangely we attach ourselves or others give us labels that we allow to be attached “Alcoholic, Gambler etc”
    Well I’ve spent most of my son’s 21 years being an awesome dad.. so guess what…I choose to have “awesome dad”.. My preferred “way” of using labels is great and can help clients recognise that labels can be neutral, positive or negative… the “thought” attached to the label is key… is it one of the above.. why have they made that label so important and why not others.. and then “grow” the other label with positive psychology tools (affirmations etc) My recent experience is of a 17 year old boy with “puppy fat” (his words) and when asked to describe himself kicked it off with “I’m fat and depressed” Not.. I’m happy with moments of sadness or I’m strong and big with temporary downers… needless to say he has spent an age repeating his mantra and suffering as a result… He is a great client and has amazing qualities.. they are about to shine brighter than they ever have given the results we have seen and experienced so far.. another great article, cheers Mark PL

  • Andrew Harvey

    I think the notion, belief or concept that an alcoholic is cured is not only a contradiction in terms, but maybe one of the leading causes of alcoholics relapsing and, sadly dying. Yes , a problem drinker can be cured, but an alcoholic is a chronic illness. Recovery from alcoholism is a life-long process.
    I think to be truly ethical, it’s essential to work with the clients understanding and meaning, informed by credible and informed research.

  • Fern Kagan

    I completely agree with Mark. I think that labels and diagnosis can be limiting and restrictive. People are much more than a set of behaviours or a constellation of criteria – I feel defining people in narrow ways does them a serious disservice and deprives them of their humanity. Plus, diagnoses discourage agency and hopefulness, both of which are necessary for change. I think a lot of what a responsible therapist does is help clients think outside of the boxes society puts them in and reclaim a connection with their authentic self.

  • effat

    i am a translator in phsychologic books and enjoy reading your emailes

  • PM

    I could not agree more. The past should not define either the present or the future. When labelling patients we are stigmatize them, which can lead to the fullfillment of the self-fullfilling prophecy. Meaning, the patients that accept the label will behave according to it. In addition, the patient is at risk of falling in love with the status of victim in which everyone helps him/her. This can reduce the chances of him/her becoming resilient and strong enough to overcome his/her past. Thank you Mark!!! Your blog is a pure act of alturism :)

  • JD

    I completely agree! I work with children, adolescents and adults who, of course, require diagnoses to bill insurance; this is a horrible responsibility as a practitioner. This was a wonderful reminder of how to deal with labeling in the therapeutic session! Hopefully with implementation of these ideas, a client will be less likely to feel that they are their label or have to become their label. Thank you so much for this reminder!!!

  • Sherri Boyd

    Mark…glad I started getting your emails. I think we are very much in sync with our beliefs regarding people and therapy.

  • Theresa Messenger

    I agree, labelling is a reductive exercise that only serves to marginalise the Self. I used to work on an abstinence based addictions programme where people (like your client Kennedy) introduced themselves as their diagnosis e.g. “I’m Jon and I am an alcoholic,”creating a limiting self image where the label became the focus in place of the substance, for both the professionals involved and the person being treated. Re framing the diagnosis as a behaviour primarily encourages a person to reclaim their unique identity and encourages professionals to begin with the unique person in front of them – rather than as a set of generalised symptoms.

  • Kevin MacNevin Clark

    I believe labeling is restrictive to client’s potential in that it can harmfullly effect emotional well-being, and overall freedom of living in general. I often use reframing with clients suffering from addiction because many come into treatment with such a powerful defiency story. To me it is like giving the client a new pair of glasses giving their vision clarity that the clinician already has in focus. I’m enjoying Mark’s work so far, and I’ve only been exposed to it a few days. I value the insight and my experience is in agreement with it, especially about feelings preceding thoughts! I remember when I discovered that.. I had been taught the fallacy in college that it was the reverse, which really didn’t make too much sense. Anywho, I’m looking forward to see what I can gain in my therapeutic approach as I delve deeper into Mark’s work.

  • Bruce Turner

    Very good tips on how a client might start to look objectively at factors they have hitherto considered define them. Interesting too about the cancer patients who think of themselves as cured are perhaps less apprehensive about life.
    I think it’s good you said it’s important not to minimalise a client’s past experience or ‘normalise’ it as just one of life’s mishaps on the rocky road travelled by everyone. Better to emphasise how resourceful they were to have experienced that and become where they are now.

  • Jeaneen Perry

    I work with teen boys who are in a residential facility. I let them know their diagnoses or labels but stress to them these are really only a way for professionals to talk about a cluster of symptoms and help us plan the best treatment and receive payment from insurance. I don’t want them to get stuck with a label, they already are stuck with a label or thought of being a juvenile delinquent or criminal and they don’t need another negative to identify with.

  • Esther Margaret

    I think a diagnosis or label can be a positive it enables me to begin to understand the clients perspective, however when i begin work with a family or just the child i make it clear we are going to move forward and the diagnosis will help us to do that. Language is so very important and most diagnoses or labels are temporary so using the correct language is important to convey that message

  • Carolyn Angwin-Thomson

    I completely agree with this, I work in a mental health centre where some people can have great difficulty looking at the possibility of future good health because they have become so identified with their illness! Thanks for the e.mail tips Mark and I look forward to following your blog. :-)

    • Thanks Carolyn I’m glad you found this useful : )

  • Anisa

    Thank you so much for the suggestions Mr.Mark.I totally agree with them and of course I appriciate them so much.I think they will be quite useful to me in the future.

  • kayturley

    In the early 90’s I worked with autistic children. At that time the condition was just being recognized, but no one knew how to ‘label’ it.
    I ended up getting young children who were misdiagnosed with different ‘mental illness’s’ which ended up with some of these kids either not getting therapy or getting the wrong kinds of interventions. I have stayed in touch with them over the years. Amazing how many of them with proper interventions, are leading productive lives.

  • Karen

    Hi Mark,

    I tend to agree and suppose it doesn’t always help patients to be diagnosed and treated in a schematic way.

    In my country, everything has to be science-related. So a “good” practicioner/therapist will use scientifically proven screenings, evaluations, and methods.

    To me, it seems much more useful to strike home individually!

    What you describe in “New Ways Of Seeing” shows how useful it is to be spontaneous about what each person really needs.

    I love the creative approach in it, and the idea of “meeting one’s own language” (can’t describe it better, because English isn’t my mother language). And thus to hit each person’s main problem.

    In my opinion, this uncommon approach reveals 3 striking benefits:

    1) The opportunity of real change.

    Many “symptoms” turn out just to be habitual mistakes. Or habitually adopted misunderstandings. Or… whatever. When it comes to changes, it’s very, very helpful to…

    2) TO RELAX.

    Hypnosis is an outstanding tool to find relaxation…. and to – somehow – overwrite one’s false mindsets.

    3) All this can bring you back to a more – in a positive way – childlike way of thinking, feeling, behaving, being.

    So many people use to tell me “Oh, it doesn’t work that way!” oder “Or, it’s much too difficult.”
    Well, all in all, I think they’re wrong!
    I think life doesn’t have to be such a struggle.
    The truth is, changes can be made easily and can lead to living fully and much more lightly – provided you don’t look at any change as “achieving”. People shouldn’t be fighting oneselves all the way.

    The moment you realize it’s much more about LETTING GO, it turns out to be an attitude so easy you just can’t resist.

  • Sharman Jeffries

    I agree about labels being restrictive – with reservations. I have some clients who have tried to live as if they did not have physical or cognitive challenges. A form of cognitive dissonance which can lead to burnout, overwhelm, depression and a cycle of self recrimination, guilt and shame. Dr Tim Cantopher (Depression – The Curse of the Strong – writes eloquently about this.

  • Lawrence

    Welcome to today form of freedom.

    You are told to report your neighbor if you think they are doing something suspicions. Just what is it that we are supposed to report. I guess I missed the day that we all were trained to do this type of judging others.

    The hate we are exposed to on a daily basis only creates more fear and hate. It is a wonder if there is any sane people left that remembers respect and love for others. There is so much news and comments about how one should behave and act, it is amazing that there is any free thinking left at all.

    I tell people to try and forget what you think you know because it is only someone’s opinion on how they think you should behave and take what they say for granted. ((News Flash)) They do not have a clue what is real and what is not. They only have their warped opinion on values.

    Unfortunately modern religion is one of the biggest problems that we face almost daily. “My God is better than your God”, type of thinking. You are no longer taught that you are special and only one of a kind. You do not fit in any today’s mold because there is no out there like you. The biggest bomb shell I drop on people is telling them that they exist for real in two forms. The physical and the spirit. Humanity has lost track of this simple fact and starting a very long time ago started getting created in making things up mostly for money and
    power over others.

    The thing I do well is helping people see fear for what it truly is. You really need to have a lot of patience to do this because they have only known fear for a very long time.

    Is there hope for humanity? I tell people that I have no idea and could care less because I live each day as myself without all of the conditioning. I know why I am here and what to expect when I am no longer here. I have found that like is a lot of fun and I work very hard making people see that there are a lot of fun things to do.

  • Alli Glorioso

    I love both your approach and the gentle yet direct way you explain your approach. You mirror much of my own thinking about therapy and the stigmas around emotional well-being. The first sentence on all of my marketing is “You are not a problem.”
    I am looking forward to reading more from you. Alli Glorioso, LMHC, NCC in Florida. 👍

  • norman ashton

    Hi Mark

    I agree with every word I have read written by your hand. I am not a therapist, I did spend seven years living with somebody with borderline personalty disorder. I have been interested in the mind and human behaviour most of my life, but the experience of mental illness first hand really opened my eyes. Your words and approaches make perfect sense. I practice mindfulness and enjoy all things about the sub-conscious and conscious, the mind.

    My girlfriend who was suffering eventually found the courage to seek, once again professional help, after several bad experiences with healthcare. The clinic spent two years diagnosing her, once again to come to the conclusion she was suffering from BPD and exactly what type. The feeling I got and get looking back is they made the BPD more concrete in her mind, it became her identity again. She had always coped without medication and refused medication because of past experiences. Recently the clinic prescribed medication for the rest of her live.

    The words you write are exactly what I wished and attempted to communicate to her when we were still together, sometimes I did have some success, others times I just got lost in the situation, but was not her therapist and was maybe to close to the fire.

  • Eva

    Hi Mark!
    I like your approach very much! What is therapy if it’s not supporting people? Labelling to me isn’t something that helps very often- unless you are trying to find something on maps while travelling. It does its work quite well when we talk about things, places and so on. Human behaviour isn’t something we should and even could describe simply few aspects in mind- it is too complex.
    I believe to change behaviour we must know at first that we can and secondly- we need information how. So it seems to me that the key is to give information about how to do something differently- especially with children. Or in therapy as well- helping the client to come up with new behaviours themselves.
    As I am a young mother of three little children I really often see how it doesn’t work when we say you cannot do something. Emotional reaction can be quite strong… So I try to use the ohter way- saying what they can instead! It becomes clear very often that there are many alternatives, not only one or two… So my question is- would it work on adults too? Have you seen (probably you have) these big ads which ask us to avoid doing something- smoking, drinking. To my mind- it might work against us by offering us bad alternatives. Should these campaigns use also the other way- giving healthy alternatives?
    So I got carried away.. What I was trying to say is- labels aren’t giving us information how to behave, but pointing out alternatives of behaviour do.
    I enjoyed your thoughts very much!

  • Judith Poole

    I have only skimmed this (need to focus on some other tasks quick before the day is gone). I work mainly with self-pay clients teaching energy psychology techniques for managing pain, emotions, subconscious beliefs, trauma, etc. When I was 19 and in my 2nd year of college I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In retrospect, years later, I have thought about the fact that at the time I was working in a laboratory. My job involved using an open-ended glass pipette to transfer algae from one medium they’d been in for a week to a newly constituted medium. Basically, I was inhaling fumes from algae poop in solution! I suspect that it was those fumes that affected my brain and resulted in this diagnosis. But the real impact of this unfortunate circumstances is that the label “schizophrenia” resulted in stigma that, while much muted today, I still carry with me. Thus it surfaces as an impact on my self-esteem when other aspects of my life are not going as well as I might wish (or there happens to be a presidential election whose outcome I find disturbing). Wouldn’t it be nice if we could shun labels all together. Of course Insurance Companies would have to alter the ways that they determine coverage and allow practitioners to bill for their services, all of which depend on choosing the right name for a malady.

  • meurig nicholas

    Hi Mark
    The comments you make re labelling are very much akin to my own thoughts. What I refer to as “pigeon holing”. That’s it – easy. Now we know. Problem gone away. Well it does for the person who has created the pigeon hole and put a label on it. I am often told by clients ” my doctor says I am depressed, so if he/she says it then I must be”. I understand that GP’s, with the increasing pressures/workload and driven by financial targets, do not have the necessary time to listen to patients which can lead to a “diagnosis by exclusion” especially after maybe several visits by the patient. Labelling sets the mind of an individual onto the one specific path which can be very restrictive, possibly damaging and can create further/problems particularly as individuals we are so different, unique and complex.
    Besides being a volunteer counsellor I also work as a receptionist/administrator in an alcohol and drug abuse agency. Returning to Kennedy “the alcoholic” – again I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and way of thinking. Kennedy will forever be labelled and contained within that pigeon hole as a “recovering alcoholic”. However there are often underlying issues which have created the over indulgent use/abuse of alcohol. Abstinence and the 12 step programme does undoubtedly help some people as the way forward but there are also relapses if the underlying issues have not been explored and addressed. Again some individuals can seriously reduce the harm by reducing their alcohol consumption and go on to lead fulfilling lives. Returning to my previous comment on how different we are as individuals then the adage of “one cap size does not fit all” comes to mind.
    On a personal note – my daughter suffered a period of debilitating illness over the past 18 months. She was diagnosed/labelled as suffering from anxiety/stress, IBS, the need to abstain from gluten products and placed into a number of other different pigeon holes. All to no avail but I could have opened up a pharmacy in my kitchen! She eventually googled her own diagnosis, sought out a specialist consultant, was operated on, is in good health and has very recently completed her degree course.
    Could I just add that a number of my clients “just want to be listened to” or have I opened up another avenue of debate/discussion?
    Many thanks for the opportunity to comment on your article.

  • Jim Kees

    My journey into therapy was guided by a desire to understand my propensity for self destructive behaviors. I started my undergrad education taking senior level courses on psychology and behavior modification. I also participated in 12 step groups while reading literature on recovery, models, and the human condition.
    What I learned was illuminating and disturbing as “labels” while helpful towards comprehending the dynamics of behavior also became an issue in itself. For example consider two statements: I am an alcoholic verses I am at war with with the desire and impact of alcohol. The first says I am as if this defines me in totality when in fact it imprisons the individual and others with the perceptions and stigmatizes of this disease. The second statement removes the stigmatize and invites all parties into the change process.
    Our society operates if of old archaic concepts that rarely are useful in creating change. We need a paradigm change where identity is core and thereby freeing up all parties engaging the best paradigm change possible
    You are on a great path and I hope one day your approach becomes the catalyst towards life long change.

  • Ani

    Well i met wit one man while doing xerox….he talk to me n discuss wit me regarding counselling…on how is it done n so on…he told me after diagnosing as an anxiety patient now he has problem with going out and gather around people because he is afraid of his anxiety disorder…he is afraid that his anxiety will occur since he has anxiety disorder. So i agree with you labelling can b useful but it also put certain limitation to them.

  • Angel Caress

    most of my therapy i did myself with prayer. I did first take all the medical drugs and test none of them worked and i ended up being addicted to many of these drugs. They Do Not Work, I did try therapy years later and found that I was far ahead of them in understanding and wisdom. Labeling does not help but neither do the therapies within the medical society. Our minds can heal but not without our souls and bodies altogether and this is not being taught in the main stream medical society


      would like to know you and pray with you

  • Mark Powell

    I find labels are of only limited use as the reality is the lived experience of any diagnosis varies from person to person as we each have so many variables that go to make the whole. My focus is always on the specifics on how a symptom may be impacting a person right now. I do like talking about a diagnosis as an entity separate from the person (externalising the problem seems to help empower a person to look at it more objectively.


    There is a saying amongst Christians to hate the sin but not the sinner. Somebody can be a person with an alcoholic past, somebody who has had a terrible illness in the past or somebody suffering with one now. It is true that we should be careful about applying labels to ourselves and to others. Particularly the worst labels are being applied to people against whom we wage wars. they are dangerous (but we are not?) they are evil (but we are not?) they have annexed Crimea after an immensely high turnout and a 94% referendum in favor of it. Crimea had been annexed to Ukraine a few decades previously when Crimea and Ukraine and Russia were all ONE USSR. Assad must go but his majority, in high turnout, was greater than any majority our own governments in the US or UK have enjoyed in living memory. He is evil we are told. Assad is a great leader, one who did not expect to get the job and one who never actually sought it. He had a respectable and well paid profession. He has Christians and Muslims of all sects living peacefully as Syrians in a secular nation. Syria is not a civil war but outsiders fighting against the Syrian people, with a few Syrians, very few who joined with these outside forces. The UK has long supported ISIS and the other factions of terrorists in Syria as has the US and Saudi. We spend billions on them. It has come to my attention that our ideas, attitudes, assumptions, our thinking, our history, and current events are filled with lies. Education is filled with lies, our medical knowledge is based on fraudulent science, our medicines are based on fraudulent science and false assumptions. We do not have a democratic government, we have votes, elections, some sway but not democracy.
    What if almost everything we believe is a lie or warped in some way? We want the truth, most of us. It is a brilliant idea to look at things from many different viewpoints. This can debunk our assumptions, feelings and thinking and sometimes we can appreciate others points of view more…or disdain them and we can find truths too. I hope that all of our minds are opened up to truths and to shaking out the filth of lies by doing this.

  • Loretta Collins

    I agree on one level. People with disorders should not define themselves that way. For example, ” I am a person with depression” vs. “I am a depressed person.” I disagree that all labeling is bad. Without labeling, you may not receive the help, and yes, that may mean medication, that you need. I abhor the phrase, “mental health” as I find it pejorative and people are put off by it and might not seek out counseling. Depression, schizophrenia, BPD, etc. are brain disorders just like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and epilepsy. The difference is, we don’t whisper about epilepsy.

  • Lynn Roberts

    A great article Mark. I would love to see this related to ‘white coat syndrome’, and being labelled as hypertensive, when the rise only occurs in the doctors office. I have experienced this myself several times, and I found your article very useful in relating it to that. Do you have any articles on wcs? Thanks.

  • Frances Ogiemwense

    YES! So often when a student comes into the Counselling room they have the view that because they have been told that they have ADHD or “problems with Anger” that there is no hope of them ever being able to behave in a different manner than the ways that have already caused problems for them,(I work in a n Alternative Provision in East London with 11-16 yr olds),they have so identified with their label that they have not felt it worth energy trying to create their own identitiy,they do not have the concept that they can have a choice about who they are, rediscovering their own thoughts and feelings is a huge journey for them but in so many cases it becomes such a rich experience,I am constantly humbled by the intelligence of these young people and their energy once their interest in themselves has begun to function once more and they are able to almost come out of hiding from behind their labels