Existential Psychology

The Library

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The DSM IV-TR is often referred to as the bible of psychology. It is used for the diagnosis of psychological disorders of all kinds and if you have ever gotten mental health counseling, especially if you used insurance, you have had direct experience with it. In order to bill insurance companies clinicians in the United States are forced to provide a diagnostic rationale for treatment.

Actually, calling it the bible is a pretty apt description because of the dogmatic way that many clinicians use it and the reverence they show for it, believing in its absolute truth. We are going to use the metaphor of a library to help show its inherent limitations rather than its strengths.

When you enter a library you will notice various classifications, referred to as call numbers, so that books with similar main topics can be housed together. Some examples are history, science, philosophy, or medicine. But what do these categorizations tell you about a specific book? Next to nothing. You are that book and a diagnosis limits you by labeling you narrowly, lumping you together will all of the other books who manifest some of the same general symptoms.

The existentialist Soren Kierkegaard wrote “When you label me you negate me.” The DSM IV-TR is a system of classification that only scratches the surface of who and what you are. From whatever source in life your labels have come that supposedly define you, think for a moment about all of your lived experiences that go far beyond them, and about what it would mean for your human growth to let one label define you forever. You surely are and can be much more.