Do your labels help or hurt?

I have a post over at the Seminary’s faculty blog today. You can find it here.

Counselors label all the time. Even when we don’t offer official DSM diagnoses, we label things as good, bad, healthy, unhealthy, dysfunctional, sinful, etc. The key question counselors face is WHEN and HOW to share their views on a subject. Just because we can see something is wrong doesn’t mean we ought to share it yet. While you may wish your family doctor to share suspicions of Lyme’s disease with you on the first visit, your counselor may need to earn the right to say, “I think you have become embittered over your husband’s insensitivity.”

If you are in a position of authority (parent, teacher, boss, counselor, leader, etc.) consider how quickly you use labels and whether or not they invite dialogue and action. If the result of our labeling is increased passivity in the one being labeled, then maybe we need to consider that our labeling is part of the problem.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Psychology

7 responses to “Do your labels help or hurt?

  1. Penny Freeman

    Good words. Makes me wish I could re-do many words spoken too quickly

  2. Hi there 🙂
    You’ve raised an important and interesting question here – labels can be both positive and negative depending on how they are used and how they are received. As a STR worker I have had the opportunity to see labels be both beneficial (allowing people to find others like themselves, helping people feel less alone, helping people understand their issues) and destructive (prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping).

    I included a video on my blog a while ago by a band called Storey which makes a great statement about mental health labels 🙂

    Thanks for bringing up this important issue and helping people to think about it!

  3. You raise a very valid point! As a fairly new Psychology undergrad, my beliefs as of now are to share a “good/bad/unhealthy” type of label once when it appears that a certain behavior is clearly helping or hindering the life of the individual and those around them. If a behavior is offering discomfort to any, it should be brought to the attention gently very soon, however it is important to understand the individual’s situation as fully as possible first. I believe once all known associated behaviors, human and non-human influences, personal feelings and emotions, and how that individual’s acted behaviors impact those around them (most importantly if it is causing unreasonable discomfort), then I believe a label should be shared, with the basis of that label being a comparison to a set standard, the standard which has been based off of similar situations and set by the Psychology Professional Community. Also if a “good” label seems to arise that seems to promote positive behaviors and feelings for the individual then I believe that should be pointed out soonest to enact a feeling of self-worth and encouragement towards improvement! 🙂

  4. D. Stevenson

    A possible negative of labels is if we label our clients too soon, whether shared or not. Perhaps we tend to stop conceptualizing other possibilities once we assign a label?

  5. In terms of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral therapy) labels can be a judgement- something that has a value label attached to it sometimes. However labels can be just a shorthand that allow a person to share a meaning quickly. We may want to avoid judgement and describe in a reframed way.

  6. Scott Knapp

    I’ve tried to get into the habit of talking to my patients about what they’re “experiencing”, rather than what diagnostic labels define them as. I sat with a young lady today who ticked off most the typical symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent. Rather than telling her “lady, you’re depressed,” I stated it a different way: “Based on what you’ve described to me, your experiences meet the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Typically the most successful treatments for this diagnosis include….” No labels, no value judgments, and a dose of hope that the condition need not necessarily be considered permanent.

  7. It’s probably easy to label people the more you see the same mistakes.

    Most people do the same thing over and over because they don’t learn new things.

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