Defying The Diagnosis: Why Diagnosing Defiance Isn’t Helpful

If you are a parent whose child has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD, you may be relieved to hear that many of us in the mental health field are not completely onboard with the idea of diagnosing defiant behavior as an illness. In fact, many of us are downright against it! As it turns out, the idea of pathologizing resistance to authority goes back to Dr. Benjamin Rush, who is considered the father of psychiatry. It was Dr. Rush who labeled those who would rebel against a federal authority as sick with “anarchia.”

Seeing resistance to authority as an illness is something that has occurred across time and space. At one point, slaves were thought to have “drapetomania,” if they wanted to escape their plight. Then there were the Salem witch trials, and the story of Mary Magdalene, and the Native Americans’ fight for their land, and the list goes on and on. Even today, we have parts of the global population who would have us believe that fighting for women’s rights is satanic.

But, as easy as it is to dismiss some of the above as crazy or tyrannical, it’s not as easy for parents to disregard a diagnosis given by a qualified healthcare professional.

So, let us make it easier for you. Just look at some of the “symptoms,” of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, as reported by WebMD:

  • Throwing repeated temper tantrums
  • Excessively arguing with adults, especially those with authority
  • Actively refusing to comply with requests and rules
  • Deliberately trying to annoy or upset others, or being easily annoyed by others
  • Blaming others for your mistakes
  • Having frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
  • Being spiteful and seeking revenge
  • Swearing or using obscene language
  • Saying mean and hateful things when upset

If you have kids, we’ll give you a moment to stop laughing before we continue. Seriously, whose kids don’t do these things? We’d like to meet them! But, even if we can argue that there are certain kids who engage in these behaviors way more often than “normal,” we still don’t believe in pathologizing those children.

Instead, we believe in helping parents and children learn about positive ways to interact with one-another. This can be accomplished through a variety of methods, including: Parent Training, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Individual Therapy, Family Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Treatment.

Regardless of the approach used, one of the main goals is to help parents learn positive parenting techniques, that focus on positive reinforcement and encouragement, which can lessen the frustrating power struggles that occur between family members. In addition, research shows that children do better when they are treated with empathy, respect, and compassion, even when their behavior isn’t what we want to see. The old idea that we must punish negative behaviors doesn’t hold up to research, if we want to see improvements. This can be a surprising paradigm shift for many parents, and we are committed to helping parents understand this new way of thinking, as we believe it benefits the whole family.

If you would like to learn more about using positive parenting to help improve your child’s behavior, contact us. We are here to help!