watchful words: 7 ways to rename a mental illness

in thinking about today’s blog post and still in line with this week’s theme of the national mental health week, i came back to one of my favourite books about therapy, ben furman’s and tapani ahola’s solution talk: hosting therapeutic conversations. the following is an excerpt and summary of the chapter, “watchful wording” where they talk about diagnostic terms.

names, labels and diagnostic concepts in mental health are more than just innocent terms used to refer to particular problems. they are also shorthand for underlying beliefs and assumptions about the nature of the problem. they refer not only to observable behaviour but also to a host of presuppositions about important questions such as severity, course, causation, and therapeutic interventions.

to select a particular term is to subscribe to a legion of underlying assumptions associated with that term. words used in psychiatry and psychology (e.g. identity disorder, symbiotic psychosis, major depression) often tell us little, sometimes almost nothing, about the actual problem, but a great deal about what we should think about it.

here are some examples of wording mental health issues in ways that are more descriptive, more meaningful and, most importantly, more helpful and conducive to healing. the important thing to keep in mind is we are not trying to re-invent terminology here; rather, the aim is to make the words a better fit to a particular experience.

furman and ahola were called in to help workers on a crisis line deal with an annoying, intimidating caller, who they referred to as “the aggressive caller”. what’s a name that fits his behaviour but would also be agreeable to him? they renamed him “the midnight cowboy”.

people with borderline personality disorder can simply be “going through turbulent times.”

“feeling blue”, “down in the dumps” are well-known synonyms for depression. and how about “taking an inventory break” or “gathering energy”?

then – putting a positive twist on “brooding” – brooding is like hatching. what’s the person hatching? what’s the exciting new thing that’s about to be born?

i also love the idea of switching the idea of “masked depression” to “latent joy”.

instead of “alcoholic”, one could refer to “needing to cut back on the drinking”; another suggestion was “tormented by the booze-worm”.

chronic schizophrenia, say furman and ahola, “is the conventional label for long-lasting deviant behaviour associated with bizarre ideas”. other terms for it might be “in the corner lifestyle” (proposed by michael white).

“wild imagination”, “daydreaming”, “having ghosts” or “being scared to death” are alternatives to using the words “psychotic symptoms”.

finally, christina chew asks whether people with autism and/or asperger’s syndrome aren’t just “quirky” or “gifted”.

any more ideas out there on giving “pet names” to your emotional experiences?

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *