How Do Psychologists Handle Patient Disagreements With Their Diagnosis?


    How Do Psychologists Handle Patient Disagreements With Their Diagnosis?

    When a patient challenges their diagnosis, psychology professionals navigate these delicate situations with care and expertise, as explained by an Organizational Psychologist who emphasizes collaboration and treatment adjustment. Alongside expert perspectives, we've included additional answers that provide a broader understanding of the strategies used in practice. From offering a safe space for discussion to exploring the underlying reasons for diagnosis resistance, discover the nuanced approaches taken by those in the field.

    • Collaborate and Adjust Treatment
    • Provide a Safe Space for Discussion
    • Focus on Symptom Management
    • Suggest a Second Professional Opinion
    • Explain Diagnosis with Evidence
    • Adjust Treatment to Patient Feedback
    • Seek Peer Consultation for Insights
    • Explore Reasons for Diagnosis Resistance

    Collaborate and Adjust Treatment

    In my practice as a clinical psychologist, handling situations where a patient disagrees with their diagnosis involves a nuanced and collaborative approach. I prioritize open communication, inviting the patient to express their concerns and perspectives. One example that comes to mind is a case where a patient initially struggled to accept a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder. Through empathetic discussions, we explored their reservations and uncovered underlying fears about stigma and self-perception. By incorporating the patient's insights, adjusting treatment strategies, and providing psychoeducation, we worked together to develop a more accurate and acceptable framework for understanding their mental health challenges. This process not only strengthened our therapeutic alliance but also contributed to a more tailored and effective treatment plan, demonstrating the importance of flexibility and collaboration in the diagnostic process.

    Zoe Fragou
    Zoe FragouOrganizational Psychologist, Zoe Fragou

    Provide a Safe Space for Discussion

    If a client disagrees with their diagnosis, the most important thing to do is to provide a safe space for the client to explain why they feel the diagnosis does not fit them. Giving the client an opportunity to share their perspective, what, if anything, fits about the diagnosis and what does not, and what being given a diagnosis they perceive as incorrect means for them is crucial. For example, if a client has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder but feels that OCD is a better fit, we would sit down and explore what about GAD does not fit them, what about OCD does, and why I, as the therapist, made the diagnosis I did. If a resolution cannot be made, I always encourage a second opinion, if accessible, and a discussion of treatments that would be most beneficial for the client, despite the diagnosis.

    Jessica Rabon
    Jessica RabonLicensed Clinical Psychologist

    Focus on Symptom Management

    When a client disagrees with a diagnosis, it's important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Understandably, some people find it challenging to accept a new or different perspective on their mental health.

    In such situations, I try to engage in open conversation with the client. I listen carefully to their concerns and perspectives, validating their experience. Sometimes people are not ready to hear a diagnosis, or not ready to change their perspective of a previously given diagnosis with which they have identified.

    For example, I once had a client who disagreed with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). They were certain that their behavior was simply a desire for organization and not driven by obsessive thoughts or compulsions, and the source of their distress was, in fact, the lack of organization.

    In our sessions, I focused on helping them reduce their distress, rather than emphasizing the diagnostic label. Together, we worked on strategies to manage their need for organization in a healthier way, and manage their thoughts when they felt something was not how 'it was supposed to be.' The intervention was a success, regardless of the diagnostic label.

    It is important to understand that regardless of the diagnostic label, the goal of therapy is to help improve the client's quality of life and manage their symptoms effectively.

    I find that focusing on the formulation of the problem, that is, understanding how certain problems developed, and guiding therapy based on this understanding can be more beneficial than relying on a diagnostic label, which cannot capture all aspects of a person. This formulation-based approach helps to personalize the treatment and address the client's specific needs and concerns.

    Adam Horvath
    Adam HorvathPsychologist, Personal Psychology

    Suggest a Second Professional Opinion

    When a patient disagrees with their diagnosis, a clinical psychologist might suggest the option of seeking a second professional opinion. This demonstrates respect for the patient's concerns and preserves trust within the therapeutic relationship. A new set of eyes can offer fresh insight and either confirm the original diagnosis or bring to light new information.

    Soliciting another perspective can also reassure the patient that their well-being is the top priority. If you find yourself questioning your diagnosis, it may be helpful to discuss the possibility of a reevaluation with your psychologist.

    Explain Diagnosis with Evidence

    If there is a disagreement over a diagnosis, the psychologist may take the time to explain the diagnosis in greater detail, providing evidence-based information to support it. This could involve discussing the specific criteria used for diagnosis, and how the patient's symptoms align with those criteria. The aim is to make the diagnostic process transparent and to educate the patient about their condition.

    Communication is key, and ensuring the patient understands the diagnosis can help alleviate some of the doubt and confusion. If you're uncertain about the details of your diagnosis, don't hesitate to ask your psychologist to clarify it for you.

    Adjust Treatment to Patient Feedback

    In response to a patient's disagreement, a psychologist may adjust the treatment plan to better align with the patient's feedback and concerns. This allows the treatment to remain flexible and patient-centered, acknowledging that diagnosis is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Adapting the treatment might involve incorporating different therapeutic techniques or setting new goals that feel more relevant to the patient.

    The ultimate goal is to create a plan that the patient is comfortable with and feels invested in. If your current treatment plan doesn't feel quite right, consider sharing your thoughts with your psychologist so it can be tailored to fit you better.

    Seek Peer Consultation for Insights

    A psychologist might use peer consultation to gain broader perspectives on a patient's disagreement with their diagnosis. Discussing the case with colleagues allows the psychologist to benefit from the collective experience and expertise of other professionals. This consultation can provide assurance that the diagnosis is well-founded or suggest alternative considerations.

    It is a valuable strategy that ensures the maintenance of high professional standards and quality care for the patient. Should you feel your diagnosis warrants further discussion, suggest that your psychologist consults with their peers for additional insights.

    Explore Reasons for Diagnosis Resistance

    When faced with a patient who resists their diagnosis, a clinical psychologist may explore the underlying reasons for the patient's resistance. This could involve discussing past experiences, fears, or misconceptions about mental health diagnoses. Knowing why a patient is hesitant allows the psychologist to address specific concerns and may help build a stronger therapeutic alliance.

    Understanding the 'why' behind the disagreement can also open the door to more effective communication and progress in therapy. If you're struggling to accept your diagnosis, consider exploring these feelings further with your psychologist.