The good in labels

I don't know that I've ever identified why it bothers me when people say they don't want eating disorder patients to be "labelled." I could sympathize with the concern that people would be pidgeon-holed and depersonalized but still, I chafed at this idea because it seemed to miss the point. It felt like push-back against applying available science and a way to protect every indefensible myth someone wanted to protect.

This resistance to labelling and naming disorders was both understandable and diminishing.

But today, a wise woman I know explained it perfectly and clarified my own belief, one I hadn't realized:

"for some people, having a label (or multiple labels) is therapeutic. It helps move from "What is wrong with me?" to "How can I fix it?"

That's it! I see labeling as the first step to getting to work. I see labels not as objectifying or stigmatizing or depersonalizing: but as recognizing a pattern that can then be addressed. The label is not a value judgement, or a summation, or telling us all that much about a person's whole picture - but an identifiable pattern shared with others for which there is some data and some solutions for some people. A label is a first step, not a limitation. 


  1. I think it is stigma that makes people decry mental illness "labels". Think about it. Nobody goes about wailing because they or their kid has been "labeled" with asthma or diabetes or cancer. They don't even consider it a "label" - it's just an illness.

  2. In other words, it is a DIAGNOSIS, not a label!

  3. Wow: exactly. That will make an excellent stock response: "It is a diagnosis, not a label."

    And yes, it is about stigma for many. But there is also the aspect of pushback against medicalizing or using evidence - by refusing the "label" and "diagnosis" what we're really hearing is "I refuse to accept your solutions and treatment ideas."

  4. I also believe that the "label" validates the RIGHT to expect treatment, research, healing, acceptance.


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