Treating People in Therapy – Not Diagnostic Labels – A Holistic Approach

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So many of my clients have expressed relief that I treat them as individuals and I do not in any way pre-judge them based on what they may have been diagnosed with or what they fear their issues are themselves. Systemically, mental health Care, is letting clients and patients down far too-often by attempting to treat people as diagnostic labels rather than as human beings with mental health challenges that are the result of wounding and painful human experience. Do we have to label that as something pathological and approach it that way? Too many would answer yes. I say, absolutely not. It is a disservice to any client or patient if a mental health Professional focuses more on the so-called pathology of a diagnostic label versus the human context of each individual client’s life experience.

For Mental Health Professionals treating clients in psychotherapy what is most effective for the flexible professional and for his or her clients is adopting a holistic approach to treating people and not getting caught up in the all-too-common parlance and stereotypical devaluing of people as lacking humanity due to the stigmatizing psychiatric diagnostic labels that pathologize people in systemic ways. This systemic stigmatizing pathologizing of clients and patients on the part of too many Mental Health Professionals is doing a disservice to all. It forwards the illusion that people with any given diagnostic label are all the same. That they will each present in some same patterned way. That they will each behave in what are in many cases, highly stereotyped and stigmatized systemic held biases about people in many but especially the next three named diagnostic categories.

In the case of psychiatric diagnostic labels such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, to name just a few of these labels, too many Mental Health Professionals have been conditioned to fear and even avoid treating several people with these diagnostic labels, especially the afore mentioned, to the point where people are being so pathologized and categorized with some of these stigmatized labels and the human context of the human experience and context of the client or patient in front of the Mental Health Professional is lost to the prejudice, bias, general fear, fear of being sued, fear of a given diagnostic category of clients as presenting a higher risk for suicide or who are discriminated against for the actual need they have for positive holistic non-judgmental treatment. Then there are some Mental Health Professionals who themselves struggle with traits or the very issues or diagnostic labels that their clients have and who fail to recognize to the degrees to which they often subject their clients to counter-transference based upon not coming from a healthy enough place themselves.


A.J. Mahari’s psychotherapy and Life Coaching Services, Ebooks, and Audios can be found at: Phoenix Rising Publications


The on-going quest to be a proven science on the part of what is now referred to as Biopsychiatry which originated largely in the United States in the 1990’s, known as the “decade of the brain” has given witness to the erroneous notion put forward that mental illness “is a brain disease” or a “brain disorder” and that psychiatric medications are, if not the answer, a large part of the “managing” the client or patient’s symptoms. It is widely known that psychiatry does not know how these psychotropic medications work. (If and when they work) It is also well-known that many of these psychotropic drugs are what creates the undesirable changes in people’s brains. Not positive changes. Changes that people have to also recover from. It is also widely understood how they often do more far more harm than any good. They can be obstacles for the client or patient – far from helpful at all. This is the pathologizing of people through the use of highly subjective and equally stigmatizing labels that have become obstacles to treatment. They have become obstacles to treatment because all of these diagnostic labels are applied more to meet with (in the United States) Big Pharma funded “studies” to advance what works for the failing profession of psychiatry or biopsychiatry wherein many psychiatrists are more concerned with being seen by their medical peers as “medical doctors” than they are concerned with the damage being done to the actual effective and humane treatment of their patients or clients. This is a departure from so many previously held ethical constraints that we need to return to. Just as medical doctors are charged with the responsibility to “do no harm” so too should all Mental Health Professionals take much more seriously the modalities of treatment they are trained in and that they work with.

Many believe in specializing in one or two modalities of treatment with various so-called “mental illnesses”. What is mental illness but a diagnostic label defined arbitrarily by the “profession of psychiatry?” The Diagnostic Statistical Manual, and everything outlined in it. is written by a small working group of psychiatrists with little to no oversight. How is this being of helpful and meaningful services to patients or clients seeking treatment? I would say, it simply isn’t helpful or meaningful. Medication is not the answer to a very high percentage of the issues that people present with for treatment. Lost in all the pseudo-science of Big Pharma and Biopsychiatry is the respect for and the dignity of people who are our clients and patients and who need to be treated with dignity and respect for the people that they are and not mistreated and disregarded and often disrespected or avoided altogether for the labels they carry.

This is where, I believe, as someone trained in Social Work and in Psychology,  that we as Mental Health Professionals need to en masse move to a much more holistic approach to psychotherapy. This holistic approach means really going back to a sound treatment philosophy and modality – the Humanistic Psychology Model. Along with more recent treatment modalities a humanistic approach and/or philosophy along with a  holistic approach that recognizes your clients or patients as people within their human context versus “walking pathology”. Psychotherapy within this context is a much more effective, balanced approach. One that has at its center much more equanimity.

In Humanistic Psychology,  whose founders include, Abraham Maslow, who created and pioneered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive, healthy, qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms,” Carl Rogers whose approach was the person-centered approach (Client Centered Therapy), Virginia Satir, known especially for her approach to family therapy along with her focus on Systemic Constellations and known as the “Mother of Family TherapyFritz Perls, known for his Gestalt Therapy methodology, Rollo May, Existential Psychotherapy, often associated with both humanistic psychology and existentialist philosophy, Viktor Frankl, was the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of Existential Analysis which he founded based on his own experience in a Nazi Concentration Camp  from which he created his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, et el., and many other theorists have left us with a plethora of ways to really help people when we treat them as such versus diagnostic labels or “walking pathology” and when we stay mindful that any and all of their suffering, issues, or difficulties are, even when out of balance, more intense, frequent, or extremely felt, thought, acted upon, they remain within the core of what it means to be a person, to be a human being, with lived human experience that has been painful and/or traumatic.


A.J. Mahari’s Psychotherapy and Life Coaching Services, Ebooks, and Audios can be found at: Phoenix Rising Publications


Treatment, in many areas of the Mental Health Profession has lost its original mandate. That mandate at the core of all ethical and effective psychotherapy whether based in any given modality or an eclectic mix of modalities as tailored to each client which is how I prefer to work with my clients, is to recognize and hold sacred the humanness of brokenness and woundedness and painful human experience that compassionately considers a persons life-context and that does not relate or therapeutically approach a client with the idea that “something is wrong with them”. The reality that this very human experience has been labeled, diagnosed, and is increasingly a pathologization of people seeking treatment, violates the basic tenets and ethics of providing caring, compassionate, non-judgmental and effective person-centered therapy to each client or patient in ways that do no harm and pre-judge nothing based on biopsychiatric diagnostic mumble jumble that dehumanizes people and forwards systemic stigma that as I said is the greatest obstacle our clients or patients face today from way too many in our profession and systemically from within mental health care delivery.

I believe that it is imperative that we, as Mental Health Professionals, be flexible enough to give our clients or patients what they long for and need – to be treated with dignity and respect, to be treated as people, and not as diagnostic labels or “walking pathology”. Clients and patients need to be fully seen and treated within the context of their very human struggles and their very human needs to heal and to recover. They also need to be respected and treated as the individuals that they are.

While many many Mental Health Professionals know what it is that I am advocating here. So very many do not. It is only a noble pursuit to treat people in psychotherapy from a holistic positive humanistic psychology based philosophy if one is to meet the sacred humble aspect of the relationship between therapist and client that is the most powerful healing process that any client or patient can have, that they all deserve and that far too few are getting in this day and age.

It is those among us who have had our own therapy travails and trials and then successes as clients and who go on to be what is known as “wounded healers” (despite that we have healed and recovered from past challenges in our lives) that know what clients really want and really need and will really benefit from. They want, need, and will benefit from those of us, who as Mental Health Professionals, know how to respect and respond and reflect their very real human suffering and their desires and efforts to create the kind of change that first help us to teach our clients or patients “how to turn their suffering into manageable pain” as Dr. Marsha Linehan, says, who was the one who pioneered her DBT Therapy modality. From this process opens a world of possibility to help our clients or patients to truly heal and recover.

The same cannot be said or proven in and through prescribing medications instead of providing effective treatment in the form of holistic psychotherapy. The same cannot be said if one sees their clients or patients as having a “brain disease” or a “brain disorder”. This has never been proven and truly helps no one. Yes we’ve learned about brain plasticity which is wonderful. But too much of the efforts of the pseudo-science of Biopsychiatry is not helping anyone get better or anyone to find their own way with our help to wellness. Wellness is not a one-size-fits all defined way of living. Wellness is as diverse a concept and way to live as their are individual clients defining it as they find it in the effective treatment of psychotherapy that is delivered and made available to them through the philosophy and practice of a holistic human context approach to treating people and not diagnostic labels. People, are people first. People have mental health challenges and struggles but they are human challenges and struggles and we need to stop defining them as what is “wrong” with the client or the patient. It’s not about what is “wrong”. After all, no one of us, has everything going “right” in our lives. We need to take the “right” and “wrong” out of everything. We need to provide compassionate, non-judgmental treatment that values the context of each client or patient’s lived life experience. There’s nothing “wrong” with anyone. Everyone is seeking to find a healthy balance place inside from which to cope and function more effectively in their lives and with the stressful world we live in today.

**Reference Source for Founders of Humanistic Psychology: ahpweb.org

© A.J. Mahari, October 13, 2014

A.J. Mahari lives in Ontario, Canada. She is an Author, Speaker, Counselor, Life Coach, BPD/Loved Ones Coach, NPD/Loved Ones Coach, Mental Health Coach, and Self-Improvement Coach. She has been described by many as an insightful and astute student of life’s ups and downs. A.J. is a Mental Health Professional. A.J. writes from her own life experience, education and over 20 years of experience working with clients with Personality Disorders or the Loved Ones of those with them. You can purchase any of A.J.'s 35+ Ebooks or Written and Narrated 45+ Audio Programs or work with her as a your Counselor or Life Coach. She is a sexual abuse survivor and recovered from Borderline Personality Disorder many years ago. She is also an adult living with (“high functioning”) Asperger's Syndrome.

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