The Glitches with Self-Diagnosis

By Jill Bajorek, LCSW

We live in a time where a lot of information is readily available on the internet, often right next to us on our phones. This can be helpful when we need to find answers quickly, but it gets riskier when we are searching for something that isn’t an exact fact. When it comes to medical and psychological diagnoses, we may be able to report symptoms, but the diagnosis and treatment best comes from an expert.

In the psych field, we talk a lot about autonomy and the ability to speak about our own bodies and conditions. We want people to feel proud to know themselves better than others can. We practitioners want to foster that pride, but also ask you to consider that there can be some nuance to that process. Diagnoses can have a lot of qualifications to meet, and sometimes social media portrays a few narrow components when talking about them. Also, there can be some crossover between diagnoses and it can take longer examining to know where someone’s symptoms fall. Lastly, when we look at ourselves, we sometimes think of our symptoms with how we *want* to see ourselves, kind of like a confirmation bias. This is normal because we are always looking at ourselves with our own biases, but even more of a reason to seek out an impartial expert to give that outside perspective.

The problems that come from self-diagnosis are similar to how self-reporting tests can be skewed by someone reporting how they want to be. If a question asks how caring someone is, for example, someone might report that they are the highest level because they want to be that caring, when in reality the person could struggle with empathy at times. It’s important to get as close as possible to reality so we can first accept that about ourselves, and experts can better help us with treatment. We can’t treat a symptom/condition if we don’t know it’s there, or we have an incorrect understanding about it.

It’s also important to know what to do with a diagnosis when we receive it. Sometimes when diagnoses are portrayed in that limited way, they’re glorified. Owning and accepting who we are is crucial to psychological treatment but when a diagnosis is glorified, especially incorrectly, we might be more inclined to stop at the point of diagnosis and not want to put in the work to make change. Recognizing symptoms and receiving a diagnosis is just the beginning of treatment. The rest of the work comes next and we therapists recognize how hard that work can be. This might be why a simple social media diagnosis seems appealing, but know that when you work with a trained professional, we want to make you feel as comfortable and supported as possible along the way during that hard journey.

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