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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Hyde

Beyond Labels: Embracing a Holistic Perspective of Mental Health Diagnosis

While a mental health diagnosis can help affirm a person’s lived experience, a diagnosis alone doesn't define an individual or their plan of treatment any more than a list of physical characteristics and demographic information. 


A diagnosis is simply a starting point to help move toward a plan that helps people reach goals and improve their quality of life. And just as we are unique creatures, what a diagnosis means and how it’s expressed and experienced is different for everyone. 


Mental Health Diagnoses

Diagnostic Misinformation


Film, television, and novels can provide poignant and exciting ways to explore other worlds, roles, and industries—but they’re also responsible for a lot of misinformation. Even medical dramas that work with physician consultants usually oversimplify symptoms and reinforce stereotypes. 


If your understanding of schizophrenia, anxiety, or even depression comes from general stereotypes or fictional sources, you’ve likely seen them reduced to extremes that cause an understandable fear response. 


Support and care start with accurate information about a diagnosis. Once you have the facts and resources in hand, you and your team can create a care plan that’s effective and appropriate for you.


Psychological Evaluation Testing for Diagnostic Accuracy 


To be done right, diagnosing a mental health condition requires the use of research-backed methods completed by specially trained professionals. Instead, patients are all too often handed a diagnosis—and medication prescribed to treat it—after no more than a 15-minute discussion with a general practitioner. 


Unfortunately, this model results in misdiagnosis of mental health conditions more than half the time. Clinical studies have shown a misdiagnosis rate between 65.9% – 97.8% for mood and anxiety disorders by primary care providers.


Instead, a test battery that includes multiple testing approaches based on individual patient symptoms, behaviors, and concerns is the way to get an accurate diagnosis. 


Tests may include: 


  • Client interviews – Clinical interviews help gather information such as family background and current concerns while observing affect, emotional state, and communication level. They also provide context for other test answers. 


  • Objective tests – Individuals answer a variety of questions about their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Responses are assessed in light of normative data samples that help identify emotional concerns, personality traits, and functional difficulties, leading to diagnoses including level of severity. Some tests may be repeated over time to help offset mood-of-the-day variances and provide outcome data for prescribed interventions. 


  • Projective personality assessments – Individuals are given tasks to complete with no right or wrong answers. Their performance and communication provides insight into how they view and connect with themselves, others, and the world around them. 


  • Record review – Reviewing relevant, available treatment records additionally helps provide insight into the whole body / whole person treatment, as well as the use and results of past psychological treatment models. These records may come from other treatment providers or academic settings.-


  • Cognitive tests – Standardized cognitive tests are administered by psychologists. Results are compared against a normative data set based on gender and age and used to help diagnose cognitive and neurodevelopmental disorders.


  • Informant interviews – Interviews with family members, teachers, or other treatment providers help provide additional points of view and information from a variety of settings.


  • Informant questionnaires – Forms may be delivered to treatment providers and other relevant parties not directly interviewed based on availability or timing. These help gather objective information on the client’s behavior and functioning levels outside of the testing environment. 


Treatment for the Person, Not the Diagnosis


Just as conditions are experienced and expressed differently for each person, care plans also vary. Designing a specific course of therapy and intervention takes into account: 


  • The totality of mental health conditions and how they interact

  • Safety concerns

  • Age

  • Relationship, family, and friends availability and influence

  • Physical health factors 

  • Goals and treatment preferences

  • Personal belief systems and values

  • Access to community resources


A treatment plan can contain elements such as: 


  • Individual counseling

  • Medication prescription, adjustment, and management

  • Group therapy

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

  • Exposure therapy

  • Therapy for insomnia and sleep disorders

  • Trauma-based therapy

  • Virtual reality therapy

  • Educational or career assessments and support


Your treatment plan isn’t an automatic “2 + 2 = 4” scenario based on a diagnosis; it’s a bespoke approach that addresses your unique experience and needs. 


Get Individualized Diagnoses and Treatment at Fairfax


At Fairfax Mental Health & Wellness (FMHW), we pay attention to your needs from first contact. As a prospective patient, you’ll receive a call back from a real person who will answer your questions and guide you through the screening and intake process. 


FMHW is the gold standard in Northern Virginia for diagnostic testing, with a neuropsychological model that identifies brain-behavior relationships for patients of all ages. 


Whether you’re searching for therapists in northern Virginia for the first time or want a more thorough evaluation of a diagnosis, we’re here when you’re ready to reach out. Contact us to get started. 

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