When “Help” causes harm

There is much debate about the value or accuracy of much psychiatric diagnosis and labelling as expressed in the doctor’s mental health ‘bible’ of the DSM V  (this is the fifth version of the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’.) These are my reflections.


Many psychological professionals now regard DSM V as simply a list of observable symptoms – so that if you have enough of them, you can then be labelled and funded to be given the correct regime of drugs. The DSM V is an attempt to bring the scientific accuracy used for physical medicine into the realm of mental illness.

It should be noted that the DSM V is only the view of one particular Psychiatric Association and one that relies heavily on the approach of Psychopharmacology – the use of drugs to address psychological problems. However, Psychopharmacology is only one of only three approaches to mental health. The other two can be summarised as Psychotherapy (or the talking therapies) and Somatotherapy (the body based therapies).


As far as Psychopharmacology and the DSM V goes, the idea that our unique and complex emotional and psychological histories can all be treated by simply swallowing a pill has been disproved by the sheer numbers of people still walking around with unresolved mental health problems. Without doubt Psychopharmacology is a valuable tool for some people, at some points in their mental health – but it is not a cure-all. The mistaken belief that we can solve everyone’s emotional and psychological issues by swallowing a pill is seductive – but simply not true.


What is clear is that, over the last 30 years, the discoveries of neuroscience have shown conclusively that DSM V diagnoses bear no resemblance to any observable patterns of brain activity.

What neuroscience has noticed in that time is that the impact of early trauma repeatedly shows the same structurally visible brain pattern changes across a wide range of individuals and a very similar cluster of symptoms. This is directly correlated with a reduction in our ability to cope with everyday life and a lowering of our resilience to trauma later in life.

This means that much so-called mental health ‘diagnosis’ may have simply missed the key point – that all our difficulties have their source in the effects on our brains from early or later trauma*. This now makes the treatment of trauma the most important activity of our times – for everyone’s mental health. It also means that using the ‘disease model’ for mental problems is outdated and more or less disproved. Not a single ‘disease’ has been found despite decades of brain scanning!


Encouragingly, neuroscience has also shown that for the vast majority of problems, the human brain can mend itself from within far more effectively than from chemical interventions from without. Interestingly, psychologically focused SOMATIC therapies have been proving themselves to be highly effective in helping people resolve and heal their mental health problems long term. This is being done through some very simple ‘re-wiring’ of our neural connections through a combination of both somatic and psychological interventions. This is in striking contrast to the drug dependency (often life-long ) created by the Psychopharmacological approach.

For the vast majority of us, these drugs neither build our long term resilience nor are most of them necessary for our long term mental health. Many of them can in fact be damaging and harmful.

A VERY good book to read… 

This excellent book lifts the lid on the ‘insanity’ of continuing to use the outdated and scientifically discredited ‘disease model’ for mental illness. This book also suggests that soothing touch based therapies (like NO HANDS Massage) can have a massive impact on healing trauma.


Health and wellbeing has been my career and my life for over 3 decades – first as a Massage therapist, then a Psychotherapist and now as a trainer and supervisor of other therapists. I’ve learnt many lessons along the way – among them, that one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Another lesson is the immense power of psycho-education for genuine personal empowerment.

Each of the three approaches to mental health has its place – but none deserves to be lauded over the others to the extent that Psychopharmacology has been. My passion now lies in bringing together proven and effective tools from Psychotherapy and Somatotherapy and creating a supportive community for health and growth through THE KNOWLEDGE.

*This is the reason why the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCSTN) in America is now running trials on a new and simple diagnosis coined ‘Developmental Trauma Disorder’ (DTD) that could encompass 80% of so called DSM V ‘mental health disorders’. Such a ‘causative diagnosis’ could pave the way for a significant increase in Government funding for both psychotherapeutic and somatotherapeutic approaches.

2 thoughts on “When “Help” causes harm”

  1. It still surprises me how people search for labels to help them name and attempt to understand what their symptoms or conditions are and suffer both mentally and physically until such labels have been written into their records or securely programmed into their own thought process.
    In the medical world were unidentifiable & untreatable until a label has been attached to a symptom that then can be attached to a condition, it,s virtually impossible to gain access to medical or clinical care without one.
    My experience has seen my own family members left in NHS medical corridors until a doctor or consultant could decide or attach a pericular name tag to them and thus refer to the specialised care team. This in its self is a good (temporary) procedure, it allows their needs to be addressed & refered onto the right department and care.

    Yet such a label sticks with vengeance once it has been installed both on records and anchored into the patients brain link a vice… we seem to own them like a trophy, we talk and express ourselves by them, we identify with other who have the same label and we seek out those of similar identification tags… Our tribesmen.. but their is even a worst form of labelling, those that were projected onto us as children.. whether intentional or otherwise these tags are tide tightly into our psyche and are the most destructive and disability of all…
    Today I continue to unstick myself from the many, many labels I collected and I was once informed by a counsellor that we never, ever recover from such pain, and sufferance, we just learn to respond in a different way.
    I feel privileged to know this wonderful knowledge and to both unhook my own outdated labels which gives me the capacity to support, guide and allow others the space to disentagle themselves and find new and positive outcomes for living.

  2. What an interesting post, Dawn – thank you.
    You explore some of the many facets of labelling and identify that it is not just our need to label others but also our need to be labelled and perhaps even to label ourselves! As you point out, Labels can easily become an identity that we can cling all too tightly to…
    What and who are we without our labels?
    Of course identifying ourselves with a medical label can also be a particular form of ‘medical scripting’ that can come both from within the family and also from the medical profession. Understanding just what the ‘secondary gains’ are (from a Life Script point of view) is a powerful way to release ourselves from the prison of such labels – often that is all we need to do. Simply by understanding the history and the purpose of our life scripts I find we can all gain greater freedom and autonomy. But it does take some serious work – this stuff does not come easy, in my own experience.
    In this video, of course, I am specifically only addressing the danger of mental health labels. I think these can be pernicious – especially when there is so much doubt as to their scientific validity and when there is so little discussion of their causation. All too often the pills follow too quickly upon the label and then the individual can so easily be missed…

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