Allow me to begin by briefly giving you my background and where my expertise really lie:
I received my MA in Psychology from Brandman University, part of the Chapman University system. Since then, I have worked with dozens of clients struggling with clinical mental illness such as generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The vast majority of my work was in the non-profit sector with those just coming out of homelessness.
Currently, I am an APCC, an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor. What that means is, while I’m licensed to some degree to offer clinical psychotherapy services, my work must still be supervised. If you do work with me on mental health concerns at the clinical level, it will have to be in that capacity. But what do I mean by clinical exactly?
The DSM 5 is the book we use to officially diagnose clients with mental health disorders on the clinical level. In order to meet criteria for one of these diagnoses, you must have the symptoms outlined in the manual. The manual is designed off of hundreds of studies, peer-reviewed, and ruthlessly edited to ensure accuracy and up-to-date standards that differentiate one disorder from the other. Is it perfect? No. That’s why it’s revised and updated every so often. Fun fact, we are actually using the DSM 5 TR, which stands for text-revision, that came out in March 2022.
If you go to your local library, you’re likely to find a copy of the DSM 5 and look through it. When you do, you’ll see the vast criteria each diagnosis requires. As clinicians, we’re trained to assess new clients on which diagnosis they meet. It’s also routine for us to update the diagnosis as needed based on new information we get in our sessions, or how progress is made in sessions.
But for each diagnosis, there’s one little criteria that must be met in order to be diagnosed: the symptoms must “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” So what’s that all mean?
The important term here is “functioning.” We have requirements in school, work, with family, and our social circles. If our symptoms significantly keep us from maintaining those requirements, then we meet this criteria. What does “significantly” mean? Well, that’s where our clinical judgment comes into play. We can’t just slap a diagnosis because we “think” it fits you. That would be unethical and, most likely, illegal if insurance is reimbursing those sessions. It’s up to us as licensed professionals to see if you are suffering from something that is preventing you from being in a healthy state.
Coaching, on the other hand, is different. Coaching is there to help you progress forward from a healthy state. Think of a professional soccer player. A coach is there to help the player play his best game against the opponent while working with his teammates. If he sprains his ankle, however, he can’t be coached. He has to go get it healed first.
Healing a sprained ankle by a medical expert is equivalent to resolving a clinical mental health illness by a mental health therapist.
Playing the game of soccer with a healed ankle alongside a sports coach is equivalent to seeing a mental health coach for achieving your life’s goals.