Diagnosis:  The First Step in Healing
by Neal Sideman

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For me, correct diagnosis was a life-changing event.  It connected me to the best resources for healing.  It helped me to recognize my condition as a part of the human experience, and it connected me to the understanding, insight, inspiration and healing offered by others.

In our society, diagnosis for psychological conditions is not something we usually think much about.  In contrast, when we have a physical condition, we don't question the need for correct diagnosis.  An M.D. doesn't spend an hour explaining why diagnosis is important to healing – he just orders the needed tests!

It’s understandable why we’re not used to thinking in terms of diagnosis for the anxiety disorders.  Meaningful diagnosis and treatment is quite recent.  The anxiety disorders  weren’t even recognized as distinct conditions until the early 1980s, and the development of effective treatments is even more recent.  

Before I got my own diagnosis, I ran a gauntlet of 9 doctors, psychiatrists and therapists.  The situation is improving, but many health professionals are still not familiar with these conditions.  Many doctors and therapists received their training long before anxiety disorders were well understood.

However, it’s no longer necessary for anyone to spend years searching for a diagnosis.  Thanks to the Internet, anyone can now do a meaningful self-diagnosis in only a few minutes’ time.

Freedom From Fear, one of the leading organizations in the field, has created a “screening room” on their website.  Anonymously and with privacy, anyone can find out if they might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.  The website utilizes a short questionnaire.  If the answers indicate that an individual might have an anxiety disorder, he/she can get a free consultation with a professional trained in this field.

The website address is: http://www.freedomfromfear.org/screenrm.asp.

In my opinion, the best way to get a complete and accurate diagnosis is to arrange a consultation with a clinical psychologist trained in the anxiety disorders.  See Finding a Therapist.

In addition, it’s essential to have a thorough physical examination by your doctor, to rule out any other conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms.  Panic disorder can be like a “chameleon”, producing symptoms that can resemble a number of different physical conditions.  It’s important to have a thorough physical exam to rule these out.

If your greatest anxiety is triggered by social situations and you are more afraid of embarrassment or disapproval than a panic attack, take a look at our Social Phobia Resources page.  Social phobia, also known as "social anxiety disorder," is similar to panic disorder, but the treatment is different -- another reason why diagnosis is so important!

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