Within contemporary culture, diagnoses are helpful and necessary within certain fields and avenues. In the medical field, diagnoses aid in terms of being able to treat a particular set of symptoms which are refined down to a particular term, label or diagnosis in order to direct the treatment. When it comes to the area of the mind, psychiatry and psychology take these approaches. There is no doubt that these schools of thought serve an important purpose when it comes to managing the symptoms that affect the individual’s sense of wellbeing. However, can there be another side to the ‘label’, one of which is less helpful to the individual? The side that may potentially prevent from gaining a deeper understanding of the issue, or more precisely its origin; the side which subsequently keeps “recovery” at bay. May another side of the “label” become an obstacle in treating the “illness”? For example, consider the perspective ‘It is not my fault/ It cannot be helped; it’s the depression’. Such an attitude is limiting; where do they leave the subject? What do they leave the subject with or without? Let us explore this a bit further; what happens when we remove the label?
Lacanian psychoanalysis does not incorporate using specific labels in its literature. For instance, the term ‘depression’ is not used in the teaching, which is striking, given the prevalence of this concept in many other clinical discourses. So why is this the case? In Lacanian theory, the concept of depression is regarded as limiting and over-used. In summarising a series of symptoms by use of one term, there is a significant piece of clinical apparatus being missed. One that is explored quite profoundly in a psychoanalytic psychotherapy. ‘Depression’ as a term covers the unique and specific sufferings of an individual with a non differentiating cloak.
Herein lies the potential to obstruct the work of more careful clinical observation; the work that will lead, if it is pursued, to the discovery of causes. This, however, gives rise to the problematic nature of such work. Going back to our previous example ‘It is not my fault/cannot be helped; it’s the depression’. Is it as simple as this? Remove the label and what are we left with? A position that potentially forces us to face that which we can avoid when there is a label there to protect us? Perhaps then it is a case of ‘better the devil you know’. Without the safety of the label, what becomes exposed? And more importantly, how can this be worked with clinically in order to reduce the suffering of the individual? Maybe what is necessary is a clinical exploration of what purpose the individual’s symptom serves, and furthermore what purpose does the diagnostic label serve?
Clinically, there is a significant use of drugs and short-term solution focused counselling/psychological approaches to alleviate symptoms in an attempt to remove the presenting clinical pathology. What occurs here is not a removal of symptoms but a muting of them. That which causes suffering is not eliminated; it is numbed, convoluted or disguised. Having never had the opportunity to be properly understood, they find other ways to present themselves. The end result is an amalgamation of various symptoms, typically presenting under the label of “depression”. Perhaps, it is that much easier to settle with a “label” than to built up the courage to move past it.