What's in a Name?: Diagnosis, Attachment, Identification and the Limits of Personal Adaptation

Diagnosis is the name of the method with which applied humanist sciences use to locate the cause of illness and dis-ease. Not all formulae of diagnosis and nosology, however, are the same as each is based upon a number of individual, biological, social, etc. presuppositions. Positivistic practitioners such as psychiatrists would me more likely to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders while more dialectically oriented psychotherapist practitioners would likely use the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual. While sometimes the goals these two forms of therapeutic intervention have can be very similar, ie. the removal of behaviors that somehow inhibit the maximum functioning of the individual, the means with which they achieve such results can be quite different. The former focuses on the disbursement of prescription medications that is in humankind’s long history relatively new, while the latter seeks to process traumas and develop psychic resources to assist them live more powerfully in the present. The recognition of this divide is not new, but was recognized in a slightly different context long ago by German proto-psychologist Freidrich Nietzsche. He emphatically stated that the notion of Being propounded by the positivists was a fiction and that the true foundation of modern humanistic knowledge rested upon a philosophy of Becoming.

If thus far the point I’m making seems rather abstract, let me give some examples. In The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain by Dr. John Sarno the author, a renowned health-care practitioner and professor of medicine at NYU describes how many of the purported problems with back pain that people have emerge not from genetic abnormalities or physical traumas but are psychological in origin. Layman believe the doctors as they are invested with expert authority on the physical functioning of the body, even though they may be fully away of the mindbody connection. As Dr. Sarno has studied both subjects and practiced with thousands of patients, he is able to state without reservation that stress, psychic tension and emotional turmoil harden into the body via ischemia and Tension Mytosis Syndrome (TMS) and lead to the variety of illnesses various called slipped disks, joint pains, generalized back pain and other problems. The cure, according to Dr. Sarno, is first to repudiate the structural diagnosis provided by the doctors and then to begin a process of self-interrogation in order to find the emotional cause and means of moving the stuck mindbody energy. Such a therapeutic course is helpful to the body’s attempts at signaling the mind that something is wrong and need not be limited to physical considerations. Indeed, intra- and inter-personal problems as well can benefit from a similar process of diagnosis, de-attachment from prevalent (usually positivistic) prognostications and re-identification.

Let me give an example of this particular type of manifestation of the philosophy of Being based upon my personal experiences. A popular explanation within the Miami metropolitan region for certain types of behavior is “I’m Latin” or “I’m Ecuadorian, Venezuelan, Colombian, Cuban, etc.” Here we again see this essentialized notion of Being, in this case national or racial culture, being conceptualized as able to subvert and in fact control the free will of the individual. What such an explanatory feature to personal qualities does is essentially obfuscate the historical realities that conditioned the passing down of certain cultural mores, values, and beliefs and instead embeds it as an un-moving fixture within the personality. It is an exercise in circular reasoning: I am this way because I was born into this way of being. The fact that someone may not have been born in that country, that someone may have left a certain foreign milieu at a young age, that someone may upon sustained reflection actually have different values based upon their own experiences than that of the caretakers transmitting them, etc. are all suppressed. This suppression is then hidden from the conscious mind and when addressed by others can lead to conflict due to the conscious mind’s simultaneous need to protect it’s choices as well as it’s repressed recognition that all such justifications are fiction.

Finally, it is important to recognize that this method of self-diagnosis is not limited specifically to designations of national origin but also to general, personally descriptive terms such as victim, perpetrator or sinner as well as situation wherein instances of a certain type of behavior get generalized, ie a person is a depressive, an addict, an abuser, etc. The attributions of some of these terms can be empowering, but it always depends upon the context so it is important to recognize whether or not they actually functioning for that purpose. At most, a temporary attachment to them based upon the present circumstances is advisable for, as the above shows, the claiming of essential quality of Being has the effect of preventing adaptation to the exigencies of new situations which can cause inter- and intra-personal conflict. By facing the fiction of our Selves, embracing the past as something which we have more control than we would normally like to give it, re-forming ourselves based upon a deeper and more profound understanding of the human will and finally adjusting and adapting ourselves to our actual heart-felt wishes we are able to gain greater control over our lives.