Everything has to have a label.
I’ve worked in behavioral health for a little less than nine years now. I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind: what it’s capable of, and especially what it’s capable of when it breaks. Anyone who’s taken a college psychology course has had some exposure to the fact that there’s a label for everything that can go wrong with the human mind; a diagnosis for everything from psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) to oppositional behavior in a child.
I’m concerned over the trend of labels, and diagnoses are but one manifestation of this epidemic. My concern is partially the fact that it enables the individual carrying the diagnosis (“I can’t help misbehaving in class, Ms. Jones, because I’m ADHD.”). A second concern, though along the same thought process, is the victim mentality that this produces in the individual carrying the diagnosis (“I’m a product of my environment! I have an Adjustment Disorder!”) And, of course, the complete lack of coping skills that the label can help create in the individual carrying the diagnosis (“I can’t handle this situation right now…I forgot to take my medication this morning.”).
The second of these concerns, that of the victim mentality, was raised in John Seabrook’s recent article in The New Yorker about current research into the field of psychopathy, those who would be known to most of us as a “psychopath.” This condition goes by many names these days. “Psychopath” and “sociopath” are virtually interchangeable (they are essentially different manifestations of cultural trends in labeling), or “antisocial personality disorder” is the DSM-IV TR. The current research of which Seabrook reports involves brain scans of prison inmates. The connection is that psychopathy is a condition, a diagnosis, something that should be treated. The problem with this view is that, much like the common cold, criminal behavior is seen as something that cannot be held against the individual in question. Ultimately, it’s not their fault. After all, our culture (and it’s not alone in the world) thrives on fleeing from responsibility. If there’s a way to make the crime that John Doe just committed not his fault, then lets jump on that. Such a shame for anyone to have to take responsibility, right?
Ironically, the possible good that can come from this may be a recognition of our own brokenness. As Seabrook points out at the end of his article, accepting psychopathy as a disorder makes the concept that “many people have at least a little psychopath in them” commonly accepted, as well. Seabrook seems to be unwittingly pointing to the theological concept of original sin.
The push in the psychological field to make every sinful behavior into a “mental disorder” leads us away from what is known in the same field as “ownership of behaviors,” or taking responsibility for what you do. The discipline contradicts itself here, and thereby leaves the public in a state of contradiction as well. Unfortunately, that contradiction leaves us less capable, in many spheres, of dealing with ourselves, our actions, or with God.
And in the future, I’m sure, there will be a diagnosis for that, as well.