Indicators That Your Psychiatric Diagnosis Isn’t Right

You've been told that you have a certain psychiatric condition, but something about it doesn't seem quite right. You might read as much about the condition as you can, and while you do have some of the symptoms, the whole picture of the illness is not a good reflection of what you are experiencing.  How can you reasonably tell that your diagnosis was in error, and what can you do about it?

Indicators of a Mistaken Diagnosis

There are three things that could indicate your diagnosis is in error or is incomplete. They are:

1. The medications seem ineffective.

Once you have received a psychiatric diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat it. If these are not needed because the diagnosis is incorrect, they will be ineffective, make your symptoms worse, or they could cause other adverse reactions.  

2. The counseling approach used has mixed results, or it is of little value to you.

For many psychiatric disorders, the counseling approach has been tailored to help patients cope with the particular issues of those conditions. For example, even though cognitive behavioral therapy is widely used, forms of it are specialized to suit the need. If you are diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, the counseling treatment of choice is usually dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to help you moderate intense emotions and black-and-white thinking patterns that cause social problems.

However, if your problem is actually adult ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), DBT might be somewhat helpful but not quite hit the mark and create some frustration for you.

3.  As time goes on, you start experiencing more and varied symptoms.

It is possible that your condition is not psychiatric at all, but a physical illness that causes psychiatric symptoms. For example, you could be diagnosed with post-partum depression but have a thyroid imbalance, or be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and eventually discover you have experienced head trauma which is responsible for your mood swings.

Also, it is important to note that while you may have a certain psychiatric condition as diagnosed, you may also have another condition as well that is causing you additional problems.

Things You Can Do To Get Effective Treatment

Your first thought may be to find a new doctor, but being hasty is a mistake for these reasons:

  • Your diagnosis might be spot on, but you haven't given the treatment time to make inroads on your condition.
  • Your prescribed medication may need to be switched to one that is more effective, or the dosage may need to adjusted.
  • Counseling approaches often teach you life skills that take effort to master and tweak to your personal situation. You may not have a correct understanding of how to think about or use them.
  • Switching doctors or counselors several times might make it appear that you are resistant to treatment. It would be smart to ponder on whether this could be true, and discuss your doubts and reluctance while in therapy.

So, be honest with your psychiatrist and don't just tell them what you think they want to hear.  They could be picking up on indicators that all is not well, but are stymied by your lack of communication or your false assurances that everything is okay. If you express some vague dissatisfaction, this won't be very helpful to your doctor, either. It would be wise to keep a record of your feelings, moods, reactions to medications, symptoms and other particulars so that you can express your ongoing discomfort with some precise detail at your appointments.

However, If you still feel can't have open conversations with him or her about what you are experiencing because they are close-minded, it could mean that you need to find someone new.


If you suspect a misdiagnosis: keep a record of your symptoms and the effectiveness of your treatment, be honest and precise with your psychiatrist, and be persistent if your condition does not improve. For more information, speak with a counselor, such as those at Comprehensive Behavioral Health Associates Inc.