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Articles

DON'T LET THE LABEL FOOL YOU
Pamela Wade, Counselling Psychologist

Living in Whitehorse
Living in Whitehorse. Reproduced by Permission


"I went along feeling bad and came out feeling even worse." said Mary.  "I was told that I was suffering from Depression.   That's a mental illness.   I cried all the way home.   I felt so ashamed, a failure.   I couldn't tell my husband, family and certainly not work.   I didn't want to go back there".   Mary 32, an Administration Manager, married with two children had consulted a health professional two months earlier and now found herself in my office referred by her Doctor.

Mary's comments were ones I had heard before.   A label doesn't always help - often it can get in the way of us feeling that we can do anything.   It can be experienced as a damning rather than a relief.   I asked Mary to give herself permission to put that label aside and explained that these labels originated as 'professional shorthand'.   A way of describing a broad cluster of symptoms that allowed professionals to talk amongst themselves.   These labels are now widely used, and often inappropriately, on television, radio and in the press as though they are things in themselves.   I can now go on holiday and take my anxiety, depression; stress and low self-esteem with me just like my sinusitis, my cat Fluffy and my bathing suit.  It was easier when we just called how we felt "the Blues" "being uptight" or "out of sorts".   Winston Churchill used to refer to being with the 'black dog'.

Mary found it helpful to ignore what she found as a debilitating label and instead we looked at what was happening for her in her life, and how she would like it to be different.   She was able to recall how she had been in the past, when she felt better, and together we plotted a path that lead her to reconnect with those habits, emotions and behaviors.  "When I come here I always see things differently, as though I look at them from a different angle." she explained some weeks later.   "Things become clearer and I have a sense of what it is I now need to do, or not do, to make things different."   Mary found that there were any number of things that could be adjusted, old behaviors, habits and attitudes brought out of mothballs and dusted off, new ones learned and practiced that gave her more skills to help her feel good again and maintain herself into the future.   They were specific to her life and her way of doing things.   They fitted into the circumstances and situations she was experiencing.   "It's like getting a tailor made suit" she laughed.   "It fits in all the right places, feels comfortable, and allows lots of movement."   What 'it' was called wasn't important to Mary any more.   Learning how to get change was.


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