The Problem with Labeling

Before ever putting my hands on a patient and working with them I have a conversation with them. I learn about their challenges, their strengths, where they’ve been, and where they want to go with their health. A lot is revealed in a short time and among this information is often a laundry list of medical diagnoses that a patient has picked up along the way.

Diagnoses like arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, tinnitus, celiac disease, depression, and cancer are common ones, and medical diagnoses like these are categories of symptoms meant to simplify the medical treatment of these conditions. Issues like the ones mentioned indicate the body’s struggle to maintain balance in a stressful and often unnatural and unbalanced world and are not to be taken lightly.

At the same time however, words have power, and while there are advantages to using them in labeling a certain set of symptoms as a medical diagnosis, there are downsides to using them as well.

Imagine a young child in elementary school who is bullied and called ‘stupid’ by their peers. With enough of this use of the label ‘stupid’ the child might lose all motivation to succeed in school or even put in an effort. Maybe the child actually begins to believe they’re ‘stupid’ because they’ve been told so. Later on in life when the child is confronted by challenges and things don’t go their way maybe the child starts reasoning that it’s all because they’re ‘stupid.’

Using a diagnosis (a label) can have the same effect. For example:

– An individual is told that they have ___”X”___ condition by a medical professional and it becomes part of their identity

– The individual take ownership of their condition, their limitations, and even their medications

– They become comfortable and accepting of their state of health, or more accurately their lack of health

– Their diagnosis (their label) is then blamed for their lack of health and the patient begins to believe that they will not improve as a result of it

– The patient isn’t motivated to be a part of the healing process, they don’t improve, and their label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy preventing them from improving their health.

Your identity is more than the sum of your medical diagnoses. Ultimately you have the choice to label yourself whatever you choose and to take your health in your own hands.

Unfortunately I see a lot of people react this way, and while there are a lot of fighters, there are also people content to use their condition as an excuse, or a kind of crutch to lean on in order to excuse them from being accountable for their own health.

This is in no way meant to belittle those with serious conditions and health challenges. There are many health issues which pose major challenges to those who sincerely wish to be healthier. The message here is that ultimately a person’s ability to tap into their potential for health- (however small or large that potential may be) rests in their hands and in most cases a diagnosis is not a life sentence of pain and poor health.

A person is more than the sum of their symptoms. I see this every day when people decide to take charge of their health and their identity and come to my office seeking a more vibrant, healthy life for themselves, regardless of what ‘labels’ they may walk in with.

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