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Learning to Accept a Diagnosis

For those of us who have received diagnoses of any kind, it can be a simultaneously confusing, scary, and relieving experience. In order to get properly diagnosed, a list of symptoms has to be reviewed thoroughly and explored with a professional. The good news for some diagnoses is that if the symptoms are treated, the person no longer qualifies for the diagnoses and is “healed.” In other cases, however, the best possible outcome may be maintenance and management of the symptoms to promote as close to healthy functioning as possible. This can be disheartening for some clients, but there are multiple ways to get to the acceptance stage of the diagnostic process.


Some clients will veer toward over-identifying with their diagnosis. The diagnosis becomes the answer to all of their questions about why they are the way they are and how they seem to interact in a unique way with the world. The bright side is that there is an explanation for many dysfunctional patterns, and the down side is these patterns have existed with or without the diagnosis. The diagnosis itself is not going to lead to an entirely changed lifestyle. The diagnosis is meant to be the first step to finding a path forward in life that best suits the person. The diagnosis is not all of a sudden a new personality trait. It is another piece of data to inform the person on which decisions they need to make to improve their own quality of life. We don’t get to choose our diagnoses, but we can choose a path forward that leads to a healthier level of functioning.


On the other end of the spectrum of initial reactions to a diagnosis, some clients will reject the diagnosis entirely. In these cases, I do suggest getting a second opinion or another perspective to gain more insight into why the diagnosis may or may not be accurate. The diagnoses that are most often rejected or denied by people are the ones that carry stigma and shame. There may have been certain life experiences that impact the person’s impression of what a specific diagnosis might mean. I encourage all clients to fully explore their symptoms and diagnoses with a team of professionals if possible. The data gained from the diagnostic process is not meant to inhibit or limit a client’s functioning – it is meant to enhance and inform a client’s self-development process.


Accepting the diagnosis can be a difficult process. Sharing the diagnosis with your support network can be helpful in preventing isolation and the feeling of loneliness while you figure out how to navigate treatment. There are usually different options for treatment, and I encourage all clients who receive a diagnosis to explore those options thoroughly before choosing a path forward. With the help of a professional (many therapists specialize in coping with specific diagnoses), living with a diagnosis can be just as fulfilling and joyful as you envisioned for yourself prior to receiving a diagnosis.


An Thai, MS, LMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our Sterling, VA office and virtually to those located in Virginia. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with An.