The Power of Words: “Recovery” Versus “Treatment”

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The Power of Words: “Recovery” Versus “Treatment”

Changes and updates to terminology in the mental health field have had an impact on the care of those experiencing mental health issues. The early days of treating mental health issues often broadly categorized people as being unfit for society.

People were seen as their diagnosis and not as the person they actually were. Similarly, those with addictions to alcohol or substances were seen as addicts, with the prevailing thought of “once an addict, always an addict.” Language like this does not inspire much hope for change and growth for the person in recovery.

Much of the terminology has changed to include more empowering language and uses phrasing that does not label people as their diagnosis. The language in the field of mental health and addiction has evolved to inspire hope and promote individual growth.

Subtle changes in terms impact our perceptions, which impact our potential. How much power do words have for people in recovery from mental health issues, trauma, and addiction?

Labeling: Expectations Create Reality

One of the most significant changes in language in the mental health field has to do with labeling a person with a diagnosis. For a long time, people with mental health issues were referred to as their diagnoses. Some examples of these phrases: “He is a schizophrenic.” “She is a manic-depressive.” “He is an addict.” “They are autistic.” “She is borderline.”

The person is seen as their diagnosis, not as having a diagnosis. Recent understandings of the impact of labels have caused a shift in the terminology used. Now, the person is said to have their diagnosis. Some examples of this change: “He has schizophrenia.” “She suffers from bipolar disorder.” “He is struggling with an addiction.” “They have an autism spectrum disorder.”

“She has borderline personality disorder.” Labeling can result in the person becoming entangled with their diagnosis and identifying as it, instead of with it. Separating the person from the diagnosis inspires hope for recovery. Labels tend to make people in recovery feel powerless in their struggles. Labels create expectations that alter our perceptions.

For example, if you met a friend’s dog and were told that the dog was rambunctious and misbehaved, you may feel tempted to scold the dog for jumping on your leg. However, if you were told the same dog was extremely friendly, you may begin petting the dog to greet him when he jumps on you! In both scenarios, the dog behaves the same way, yet our reaction changed based on our preconceived notions.

People in recovery can face similar misconceptions when labels are used to identify people with mental health and substance use issues. When labeled with a statement like, “he is an addict,” you may feel as though you are destined to only be an addict. You may feel helpless thinking, “I cannot change what I am.” However, do you feel different saying, “I am currently struggling with addiction”?

When we adopt the identity of our problems, we feel like we cannot separate ourselves from our issues. When we separate our issues from ourselves, however, our issues become problems — and problems have solutions! The impact of this change helps people view themselves as a person with an issue, rather than a person who is an issue!

Recovery: A Hopeful Journey

Most treatment in mental health and addiction is now more commonly referred to as “recovery.” Where “treatment” implies that you are a patient in need of a cure or remedy to fix a problem, “recovery” implies growth through the process of healing. When in recovery, you are not trying to fix a problem, but you are learning from it and you are becoming a better person from healing through your pain.

Recovery implies learning and growing from our experiences. Recovery empowers you as an individual to make the best decisions for your personal journey to grow and change. “Treatment” leaves your care in the hands of professionals, where “recovery” makes you a partner with those same professionals. Recovery is a journey that puts you in the driver seat of your journey of wellness and positive growth!

Your Personal Recovery Language

How do you view yourself in recovery? Ultimately, your self-perception will play the biggest role in building the resilience needed to successfully thrive from addictions, trauma, and mental illness. Do you see yourself as “struggling with an issue” or “thriving in spite of your setbacks”? Do you feel like a “patient being told what to do by doctors” or as a “client conferring with professionals for the best help”? Notice the difference between saying “I’m dealing with addiction issues” versus “I’m persevering in my recovery from addiction.”

Which is more empowering? The language we use to define ourselves has a massive impact on building our self-esteem and self-confidence. We will need self-esteem and self-confidence to build the necessary resilience on the journey toward recovery. Think of the way you label yourself: is it empowering or is it limiting?

Beginning the journey to recovery can be confusing and overwhelming. You may be unsure of what approach to take or unsure of the choices available to you. Recovery works best when you take on an individualized process that you choose! Some programs offer a variety of approaches that you can integrate into your recovery process. At The Kimberly Center, we offer several different therapy options, ensuring you can find a recovery program that best meets your individual needs. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you find the type of therapy that works best for you, whether you seek recovery from addiction, mental health issues, and/or trauma. We offer short-term stays with varied approaches to recovery, from Talk-Therapy to Group Therapy to Yoga and our “Grotto Therapy.” Call us today at (855) 452-3683 to learn more about our therapy options and begin your journey toward growth and recovery!

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