Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Patient, Client, Consumer...What Next?

The mental health field has a colorful history when it comes to nomenclature.  Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers constantly coin new terms, which take on lives of their own.  When debating word choice, I think a good place to start is with the following question.  What is it that we mean to say?

Specifically, I would like to weigh in on the fad in mental health of referring to clients or patients as "consumers."  Let's start with what it is that we mean to say.  There is overwhelming empirical support that mental health services have better outcomes when providers develop strong relationships.  As a field this is something that we agree on.  A la Carl Rogers, providers generally strive to be non-judgmental and show unconditional positive regard.

The emphasis on relationships is what sets our field apart.  Whereas the terms "patient" and "client" seem to convey meaning around the relationship, "consumer" is impersonal in the most offensive way.  The literal meaning of consumer, in the context of globalization and environmental decay, is even more off-putting.  Consumer feels like a one way street.  It doesn't reciprocate, it doesn't form relationships.  It consumes and moves on.

I have no problem with my therapist referring to me as a patient or a client.  If I am the patient or client, then my therapist feels like the credentialed professional--and I want that.  But please do not call me a consumer.

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