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Warning! Labels Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

January 22nd, 2014 05:00:00 am

Warning! Labels Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

We analyze, we identify, we classify and, in particular, we label.  This is a process, which is fine for science, archeology, and craft projects, but not so hot for the human side of humanity. If we could use labels as loose descriptions which are starting points, at best, on the road of actual discovery to who someone actually is and what they actually need in order to succeed.


Years ago, I worked in the mental health field and one of the realizations I found most disturbing when I first started attending meetings was everyone was referred to by their diagnosis, as if it was who they were.  I had more than one battle at the time, about not making these individuals their labels, to not cookie cutter their treatment plans, a battle that only ended when I left.  At least it did for me.


Later, my work was increasingly with alternative approaches, views and solutions, but I still was brought into traditional settings. I found these settings hadn’t changed all that much. I hear from educators, mental health professionals and other support systems, in whispered tones, even today it hasn’t changed all that much. IEP’s, ed plans, care plans, and treatment plans are all diagnosis driven, at the cost of the individuality of the person.  Cookie cutter solutions are easier when you are working with individuals who have cookie cutter shapes.  Shapes that seem to begin and end with the label.


Do all professionals do this?  NO.  Is it still pretty much a standard practice? For the most part, I believe it is.  A whole, complete accurate picture is replaced by pertinent facts (labels), which indicate a certain course of action, and as long as that course of action corrects the problem, for the institution, it has been successful.  It’s success for the individual is often seen from the institution’s perspective not the individual’s.  In cases where the individual is truly incapable of understanding or making a decision, there is merit to this approach, but the power of “we know better what’s best for you” is a power that is being increasingly abused.


In the case of ADD/HD children and sometimes even adults, the medication route is forced through methods that are bullying, emotionally or mentally manipulative or in the case of children, simply just forced.  One my of earliest ADD/HD clients, a child of 11, said he would kill himself before he would take the medication and he refused to lose a vital part of himself the medication took from him in order for him to fit in better.  His mother took him seriously and so did I.  It was NOT easy but that child continued through college, never medicated. 


Labels also tell everyone, including the individual labeled, what they are and are not capable of and what they can and can’t be held accountable for.  Those hard and fast boundaries serve no one and encourage sloppy, lazy and fuzzy thinking when working with that individual. They can buy themselves passes when they should be held accountable and they can be cheated from experiences, which are deemed impossible for them.  


Labels used in the context of mental and emotional disorders, gender, culture, orientation or religion, which are starting points that gives us a general idea of where to work from, and are not rigidly applied, are the kind I believe work best.   


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