It is estimated that one in five adults will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime. That’s why determining the appropriate diagnosis for our clients is the cornerstone of good clinical care.
Unlike physical health conditions, there are no scans or blood tests to help diagnose a mental health disorder. For this reason, mental health providers must consider the client’s presenting symptoms, monitor their duration, assess for a level of personal distress, and evaluate the impact of these symptoms on the client’s ability to function. This information is gathered through a thorough clinical interview, a review of the client’s psychosocial history, and from forms and/or questionnaires.
Once a client receives a diagnosis, they may wonder, What now? Many mental health providers see this as the beginning of treatment. What follows are some helpful strategies to help our clients gather useful information about their diagnosis, process their reactions, and find meaning and purpose behind their diagnosis.
Encourage your client to learn about their diagnosis.
Select credible and reliable resources for your client to do their own research on a particular diagnosis. These resources should identify the core symptoms of a disorder and describe them in easy-to-understand terms. They can also identify recommended treatments, debunk any myths about the diagnosis, and identify strategies for self-help.
Your client may also find it helpful to learn about other people who have had similar experiences. This can be done through support groups, online forums, listening to podcasts, or reading biographies. The more our clients understand about their diagnosis – what it means and what it doesn’t – the more informed they’ll be about their treatment options.
Provide emotional support.
Not everyone feels the same way after getting a diagnosis. Many clients feel relieved to know that there is a label to describe their experience. Some may feel validated and normalized that there are other people who share their experience. Others may feel hopeful that they are on their way to getting the treatment they need. And yet others may feel worried about what this label means or even embarrassed, unhappy, or angry because of the stigma around mental illness. Regardless of how your client feels, it is important to provide them with a safe and validating space to express a wide range of reactions.
Help them find professional help.
If your client is insured, encourage them to call their provider and ask about coverage for mental health treatment services. They will also have the most up-to-date list of clinicians who accept their insurance and are taking new patients. Clients can also contact community mental health programs or their local behavioural health department to see if they take their insurance. Private practice clinics are an option for clients who do not wish to use their insurance or can afford to pay out of pocket. Most practices will also have a sliding-scale or reduced-cost fee.
A diagnosis is only helpful if it leads to good treatment, and research suggests that treatment is most effective when the relationship between the client and therapist is built on trust, honesty, and respect. Whether it’s with or without insurance, or at a public or private clinic, make sure your client isn’t afraid to meet with multiple mental health providers to determine a good fit.
Build resiliency in the client.
For many clients, their diagnosis can become a part of their identity. However, it’s important to explain how their diagnosis can help them understand a part of themselves, and that they won’t be reduced to a singular identity. For this reason, it is important for clients to reach for a sense of purpose and self-awareness.
Resiliency helps clients maintain strength in the face of adversity. This can include building social engagement and connection, understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses, prioritizing activities that promote emotional well-being, and finding meaning behind life’s hardships. Research indicates that exploring the significance of an experience or situation contributes to positive mental health outcomes.
Altogether, these strategies can guide clients after being diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Receiving a diagnosis can initially be overwhelming, and it can take time to find the exact combination of treatments to start feeling better. However, these guidelines can help our clients learn more about their diagnosis, identify their reactions, understand their treatment options, and build a sense of resilience and strength. Everyone’s journey is different, but over time, and with our help, our clients can live a full life without letting their diagnosis get in the way of what matters most to them.
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