I’ve been a helping professional for enough years that many terms have come and gone in referring to our work, diagnoses, and clients. Recently a nomenclature shift happened in our state Medicaid paperwork that now refers to “consumers”. I have already been through patients, clients, participants, attendees, and now consumers comes around. Even professionals are referred to by many names including counselor, therapist, “doc” (no matter what your degree), shrinks (again no matter what your degree or training), helping professionals, psychologists (again no matter what your degree)- do you see a pattern here?
Clients are just as confused about what to call us sometimes as we them. What we all miss and want is to be seen as the unique individuals we are- even though the need for shared nomenclature is valid.
The long discussed revision of the DSM will be here in 2013 as version V is published. Once again we will revisit the language we use in naming the disorders that for years have evolved in name. In the area of diagnoses, shared nomenclature is essential, so we all can be talking about the same thing when we label something. This is about science and statistics. But what we call those we work with is more about cultural shifts in perception and ways of doing business. I have heard some counseling centers that refer to “customers” because a client (my favorite term) is purchasing a service from us in seeking counseling.
Consumer does reflect more awareness of the less hierarchical approach in meeting our clients more as someone having rights and equal input to the process- choice! Regardless of the terms used, examining them helps us identify some of our inarticulate feelings, and thus talking about all this is valid.
My doctoral program referred to we students not as "students" but as “learners” and while I think that is a wonderful aspirational term, maybe student defined me better at times. Maybe even slacker! So if we were to apply that kind of aspirational language to clients what would we say? Changers? Collaborators? Or in-need-of-support?
I know labels exist like "in-need-of-treatment", and not all “consumers” are voluntary. As usual, I have no solution or proposed action here- but hope by writing this to just get you thinking…. Like “consumer” got me thinking. Consumer? Customer? Client? Therapist? Counselor? Dr. Phillips? As I tell those who seek my services-- just call me Joan.
Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.