I am an advocate of "unlabeling." I don't think that's actually a word, but it should be. We spend too much time grouping people into categories. I am guilty of it as well.
I do realize that labels have a purpose. They make things easier. They give us a context, a frame of reference. Labels can be a pathway to needed help and services. But there are times when too much emphasis is placed on what a person's "label" is, and it becomes a distraction. When we see the label first, and the person second.
I work with children of alcoholics and addicts. The label for that is COA. You will notice that I don't use that acronym in my blog. It would definitely be easier, but there is something about a label that is so impersonal. And there is something about using it that makes me cringe. It may be a personal thing. I am an adult child of an alcoholic (or ACOA). If I look at the characteristics of an ACOA, I definitely qualify. But again, I cringe when I hear it, because I am so much more than that. Being an ACOA is not the totality of who I am.
I try to keep this in mind when I work with kids, because children are frequently innocent victims of labeling. I truly am lucky because I work in a program that follows a certain philosophy. When children come to our group for the first time, guess what? As counselors, we don't need to know everything. We don't even read history forms until after we've spent an entire day interacting with the kids in the group.
What's the benefit in this? Wouldn't we be ahead of the game if we knew every child's detailed history? Every label that they had ever been given? No. Because when a kid walks into my group, all I need to see is them. I don't meet them and have any kind of preconceived notion of how they're going to act. I don't want to read comments and opinions that I am dealing with a "good" kid or a "bad" one. I spend the day with them, and I let them show me who they are. And this is important, because the labels that people are given directly affect the expectation that people have of who they are as a person, and how they will act. If you expect to see a certain behavior from somebody, chances are that's exactly what you are going to get. A great article from Psychology Today addresses this very topic.
So how amazing is it when I spend the day with Tony, age nine, who is an active member of the group, who is respectful to all of his peers, who participates fully and is kind and cooperative. Who looks so relieved to be there. And then I sit and review his history, and I chuckle as I read that this amazing, cooperative, polite kid who is great to have in group has the diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, is a troublemaker in school, has problems with authority and has been suspended several times. I spend the next three days with him, having fun, listening to his story, watching him make friends. And I think to myself that I am so grateful that I didn't know, that I didn't watch him walk through the door the first day and expect to see that troublemaker. I would've expected bad behavior. I may have treated him a bit differently, waiting for the ball to drop.
Instead I see this - a kid. A child who may never have had a safe place. A nine-year-old who just once, wants to be seen as the amazing human being that he is, with all kinds of potential, regardless of his circumstances or history. Regardless of his labels.