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Naomi Aldort on labels

I have a lot going on this week in my personal life and my work life, so I haven't had a lot of time to write. But I miss the great discussion that so often comes in the comments on my blog posts. So when I came across an interesting and probably controversial quote from Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, I thought I would throw it out here for discussion.

In response to a parent's question about her child's anxiety, Naomi's answer, in part, said:
All medical labels are nothing but the failing attempt of “professionals” to define what they don’t understand and to justify toxic and harmful medications. In a way, they are doing what your child is doing: clinging to order, names and ways to “grasp.” So I am glad to know that you are staying away from these.

I have friends who have been labelled with things like ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and more. I have friends whose children have been diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, Aspergers, Tourette's, and more. Some found the label helped and gave them the recognition required to get the support that they needed, be that information, counseling, medication or other things. Some found the label hurt, resulting in them being judged, excluded, or ridiculed or having medication or therapies they weren't comfortable with pushed on them.

What do you all think? Are labels useful or hurtful? Are they simply used by medical professionals to control their patients? Or can they be empowering for the patients themselves?
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Reader Comments (27)

I was quite taken with ROCRO when I first encountered it, but as I began to follow Aldort more closely (getting her newsletters, listening to her lectures) I actually came to feel that following her advice to closely was damaging to me. At bottom, she seems to ascribe every parenting problem or behavior problem to something that the parent is doing incorrectly, not framing properly, following an "old script" or something like that. Her work made me feel like I was an inadequate parent, and that furthermore, that feeling was the result of my inability to properly frame the issues. The last straw for me was when she stated in a newsletter that feminism was basically a conspiracy to separate mothers from their children. (And she makes Elizabeth Pantley sound as bad as Ezzo.) I got some useful ideas from ROCRO, but I am glad that I did not fall into the trap of taking Aldort's word as gospel. Dr. Aldort is selling a product just as much as those she criticizes.
As for labels, I think it is exactly as you say: sometimes they are helpful, and sometimes they are not. Some people have disorders that need treatment, in one form or another (not necessarily pills). People should be empowered with information and support to take the path that is most helpful for themselves and/or their families, not one dictated by someone else's agenda.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I honestly think this can be both. I think before getting our children tested, it is advisable to ask ourselves what the "labels" will do for us. If they will stress us out and isolate us, then I'd question whether it's worth getting any testing done. On the other hand, if we think it will give us a framework to address certain issues and get resources for our children, then I think it can have significant value. As a culture, I think we're overly concerned with labels, but I think that's more as a result of us wanting an easily navigated world, than any inherent evilness of labels. I think it's how we view labels (static or fluid? right or wrong? opinion or fact?) that impacts how useful they can be. Personally, I'd rather avoid placing labels on my children, but if it helped me get some resource, I'd "play" the game, so to speak.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara

I grew up with a math disability (discalculia) that was never diagnosed or recognized as a disability. I only learned about the "label" as an adult, when I was doing some research, and realized that I fit almost exactly the description of a person with discalculia.

I'm not sure whether a label would have helped me growing up or not, looking back on it. I do know that I struggled with certain mathematical concepts to the point of crying most days in frustration and feeling stupid. My parents were in frequent conferences with my teachers at school who puzzled over why I was "gifted" and excelling at everything except for math, and told me that I needed to try harder.

I recently have recognized signs of discalculia in my third-grade daughter. Last year, I approached her teacher about the issue, and she was extremely helpful, reading what I had provided for her about the disability (which most educators still have never heard of), and then going out of her way to do more research and to come up with ways to help my daughter learn math in the way that was best for her. Thanks to a dedicated teacher, she still loves math.

I'm hopeful that for my daughter, having a name for her disability will help her to avoid the frustration and shame that I felt at not being "good enough" at math. While I haven't talked to her much about the name of the disability, I have shared my own experiences with her and continue to keep the dialogue open so that she feels like it's something she can talk about when she feels like it's affecting her learning.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

I believe this could go both ways, and every situation is different. I know that without proper medication after I miscarried almost 2 years ago, I would not have been able to function at all. I also have a family history of depression and anxiety disorders, and firmly believe that chemical imbalances are to blame. Without proper medication, I would not have had the attentive, loving mother that I grew up with. She was diagnosed when I was 7 years old with chronic depression, and she went to "La La Land" for a couple weeks (which consisted of her laying in bed with a blank stare, not even responding when her 4 children would talk to her) while my father struggled to find good quality care for her. Without the help of the wonderful doctor we eventually found, and the medication he prescribed, I don't know if she would have been able to pull through.

I also have known and taught many children that have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and sometimes I felt like maybe the child just wasn't getting enough attention themselves. Obviously I am no expert, but it was interesting to research the growing number of diagnosed cases in the last 10-15 years.

Everything should be taken on a case by case basis.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLacey Jane

I have a family member who was labeled, and it was helpful even though the label wasn't entirely accurate. It enabled her to get help that she needed through the Canadian medical system, and allowed her to qualify for a variety of programs.

I think that a lot depends on WHAT the label is, WHO is applying it and WHY they're applying it. If someone else is being inconvenienced by your child and labeling them, not so good. If a parent is struggling and needs help, and a label secures that help, it can be a good thing. It can help to avoid and overcome difficulties.

But really, what we most need is a more sensitive educational system that's better able to handle a variety of children. I say this not as a criticism of dedicated educators, but of the system that they're often working under. I'm sure that they would appreciate better resources, too.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I have Tourette Syndrome. When I finally got an unwavering - we've ruled everything else out - diagnosis it was a huge relief. Finally there was an explanation for me and an easy one sentence reason to give other people to explain bizarre behavior, jerks, tics & twitches & other stuff . Having a diagnostic label does not define & encapsulate you - if it does the use of that label is a problem. Having a diagnostic label does not require a certain treatment, it might not require an actual treatment at all (medicinal, therapeutic etc.) - if it does the use of that label is a problem. I've been on medications - some good, some horrible. I've been taught & use other non-medicinal therapies - biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation etc. The label has not hindered my healthy functioning in any way. But I can see how they can be misused - as anything can be misused.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiza

Sorry but Naomi's word IS gospel! I have to agree that particular quote is a bit of a blanket statement though.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoma

It's also a lead up to her typical sales pitch:

"Obviously, your child needs the cause of his anxiety to be addressed. If my general guesses lead you to an insight and a clear understanding, you may be able to support your child’s direction. If this response leave you with no real solution, I highly recommend that you book yourself a phone session with me by registering on my site..."

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I've had mixed experiences with labels. I have been diagnosed variously with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, and borderline schizophrenia (turns out that was a side effect of one of the meds they put me on to deal with one of the other disorders they thought I had--awesome!). These labels have been more problematic than not for me because freakin everyone wants to medicate me despite the fact that the medications make me 10 times as crazy along with causing numerous physical problems. The only psych label I'm ok with a medical professional using these days is PTSD and I am choosy which professionals get to use that one. Medications have harmed not helped me. The thing that helped me work through my problems was finding the absolute perfect therapist and going through years of super intensive work with her, largely from a harm-reduction point of view. Sadly she is now dead so I am kind of at a loss for any continuing good help.

My husband, however, has Aspergers and knowing that has been invaluable for us. There is a growing body of information on ways to help Aspies and NT folk find a common language and that has been wonderful. We have a fabulous marriage at least partially because I was able to find references that taught me *how* I should talk to him so that we both get our needs met. Very useful stuff.

As a parent I am going to avoid labels for my kid (other than AWESOME--of course) unless I feel that there is some specific service we need that can only be accessed with a label.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKrissy

As someone with a Master's Degree in Family Therapy I practice a postmodern therapeutic approach which basically means that reality is constructed through language. Labels have the power to define us in negative and positive ways. I encourage everyone to be in charge of the language they use and employ others to use regarding their identity and care. Labels can be valuable, freeing, validating, helpful. They can also be condemning and suppressive. Just remember that you are the boss.
A client found the label of schizophrenic to be disadvantageous for her. It made her feel powerless and stereotyped and undermined her role in her own mental health. We worked together to empower her as a strong, intelligent woman who walks through life with "companions" (her word). We worked together to elevate her voice as the arbiter of her companions and thoroughly evaluated the strength of perspective some of the companions brought to her and some of the falsehoods they tried to convince her of. The labels we employed and discarded through this process freed her from the negative and limiting nature of a schizophrenic diagnosis. Through the power of the intentional use of language she was brought to a place where she could and wanted to manage her companions.
I'm sorry to bore you with such a lengthy example but I just really wanted to illustrate that ownership of labels is everything. In my personal life I can tell you that I use this concept everyday. For example, I had a conversation today about how my son has strong "leader"ship qualities that need to be cultivated in a positive way as opposed to "bossy". Taking charge of your labels changes the way you see yourself and the way others see and approach you.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Rainbolt

i think it's a very human characteristic to file, pigeon-hole, label, and otherwise sort our environment. there is some comfort in it and for indexing etc it's invaluable for categorising treatments, issues, personalities, locales, incidence and so on - it's how encyclopedias work, and so on.

it's also a statistical nightmare when applied to a person, one human being - being absolutely average for x, y or z is unusual but unfortunately the individual often loses out in generalisations - i wish it wasn't so

with one family member with epilepsy i'm very aware of the power of labels. in one instance it procures the right treatment and drugs but on the hand it incites fear, prejudice and injustice.

i think the issue is label use in context (and, as a side note please lay off the institutional, sad and tired denigration of the medical world - they're humans too)

I certainly think labels are overused and misused, but at the same time I recognize that they can have their place.

I often wonder, for example, about the necessity of one of the newer label fads, sensory processing disorder. What good does it do a child to label him with a "disorder" because he is bothered by particular textures/sounds/etc? I know that there is a huge range as far as how strongly the child is affected, but it seems like everyone I know now has a child with SPD. The solutions are the same either way - is the label really necessary? I don't know, maybe it is, I just can't see why. It seems to me it would do more damage than good, as far as how the child views him/herself.

On the other hand, if an official label would open up access to resources that would help, it would be beneficial to both the child and the parents.

Really, I could argue either way. While I do think labels are overused and misused, I can't discount the good that has been done for many individuals who have been officially "labelled"/diagnosed. I would imagine that in many cases, it would be a relief to finally pinpoint what exactly is wrong, giving it a name and a face and, hopefully, a solution.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

I agree. A friend's child has been labelled "severely autistic". I can't claim to have that much knowledge about autism, but the "severely" part surprised me at the time he was diagnosed (the autistic part did not). But the label qualified him for intensive therapy that has worked amazingly well for him (he's currently measuring off the spectrum and is a different child (in a good way -- he speaks, for one thing, when he didn't before) than he was a few years ago). If he hadn't been labelled, things would be very different.
On the other hand, I've been dealing with some health issues with my children, and the "diagnosis" so far feels like a "name we give parents when we don't really know what is going on". It hasn't enabled me to help my kids.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I liked a lot in Aldort's book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. And I actually understand what she's saying about feminism (an earlier poster mentioned it) in that some of what she says does actually apply to Betty Friedan-esque "Liberal Feminism" ("all that women need to be liberated is to get jobs like men!") but beyond that I find her stance unbearably middle class (and middle class with a fair amount of money, too) and horribly heteronormative. And as others have pointed out, she's selling stuff herself; her book, her skype calls, her videos or whatever.

So I don't trust what she has to say, and this isn't much different.

And the thing is, in a society where, in order to get the support you need, you need to have the diagnosis/label/be statemented, in some respects the label itself doesn't matter that much as long as it means someone can get support. Now, if Naomi's advocating for a world where everyone gets the support they need for wherever their ability levels and capabilities are non-normative without being labelled then great, but having read Naomi's work, she is very anti-school (a place where labels, for children, are commonly used and can both come in really handy - support-wise - and also be very harmful - bullying-wise) so I can't see her advocating for anything within schools except them being shut down.

I think this attitude of some "natural parenting" advocates (as Naomi's not the only one who thinks this way) of "all learning disorders are just problems caused by being in school / made up by medical professionals in order to make money" is even more harmful than "labelling absolutely everything as a disorder" (which, I'm not even sure happens anyway; I know quite a few adults with dyslexia and ADD who only received a diagnosis as adults because no one noticed at school). I'm sure there is a middle ground, but I also think it depends on the individual; someone should be able to have a label if they want it, but to reject it if they don't find it useful.

I'm also thinking of someone who was once very close to me who struggled for years, and years with reading and writing and only in early adulthood was diagnosed as dyslexic. Her mother bullied her and pushed her for what she perceived as her laziness until she got this diagnosis and then her mother relented and started treating her like a human being with support needs, rather than someone who was failing her. If she'd had that diagnosis earlier, just think how differently her mother might have treated her? (It wouldn't have made much difference to her in school; our school was the kind of place where kids throw chairs at teachers and just getting through the day not being beaten up is an achievement, never mind anything academic.)

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRosemary Cottage

I don't reckon she sees that as a sales pitch. She just knows she can help.

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoma

My favourite label discussion came from an instructor in my Child and Youth Worker program at college to paraphrase her position:

"We like labels, we stick them on everything and a lot of the time they can be useful. The label on a can of corn tells you what's inside so you know you're not going to get pineapple or beans when you open it. The problem with labels is that a) they're hard to take off once their stuck on and we're so used to them, it can be a little scary to think about taking them off and b) that label of corn may tell you something about what's in the can but it tells you nothing about all the different recipes you can use corn for; it tells you nothing about how the corn tastes, what it smells and feels like or what it can do in different situations and settings."

She went on to talk about labelling kids and how labels can help you know certain things about a child but that we always have to remember that they never tell the whole story.

My own experience working in the field is that yes, for some kids, a diagnosis and label can make a lot of difference in terms of tolerance, support and adaptation. The problem comes in when we don't bother to look past the label, when we forget the individual child it obscures. So in my mind, it's not the label itself, it's the categorizing and pigeon-holing our society is so attached to that causes the problem. Kids are kids and each kid grows up with a certain set of characteristics, abilities, skills and needs. Some kids have more specific or more intense needs and some don't. Being able to note, understand and share those needs is important and therefore, in my mind, labels and diagnoses are a good thing. It's what we do with them that can end up limiting or hindering a child's growth and development to his or her full potential.

So I think that it's up to all of us to check ourselves and reflect on how we use labels, both in our speech (i.e. "he's my ADD kid this week" vs. "that's Sally, she might need some extra help staying on task with this activity") and in our actions (i.e. over-helping vs. fostering independence, realistic but challenging expectations etc...).

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchapeskie

No, I don't agree. I think she's making a broad generalization about doctors and meds too. If someone has cancer, is that "label" the doctor's way of saying they don't know what's wrong? Ad not all meds are bad. I have a thyroid disorder, and the meds help me immensely. AND, when I went to my doctor asking about alternatives to the usual treatment for my disorder, she was more than willing to listen and then willing to try it my way.

And from an education perspective, that label can be the key to accessing services that can help a child cope and function.

Yes, some doctors are more willing to push pills than others, but that's not always a reflection on the doctor. I read somewhere (Prevention, I think) that doctors don't/can't always trust people to follow through with lifestyle changes that will reduce or eliminate their disease, but you can usually count on people to take their pills. It seems Aldort has a poor opinion of doctors overall. It's sad, because doctors are only human and sometimes they really DON'T know what's wrong with someone. But because of society or insurance companies or the patient themselves, they are forced to "label" someone because "I don't know what's wrong with you" isn't an acceptable answer.

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I think it can go either way. I think if you put too much emphasis on the label and forget to look at the person then it can be harmful, especially if the label is wrongly applied. But I also think that labels can help, as long as you don't allow it to be the sole definer of who you are or who the person the label applies to is. Personally, I don't care for labels, be they medical diagnoses or parenting descriptives or what have you. I think that by relying just on the label or giving too much emphasis too that label there is a high risk of others jumping to potentially erroneous assumptions before having a chance to get to know the person or allowing it to color their impression of the person. Having said that, in order for my oldest son to receive the support he needed at school he needed to be labeled. Fortunately, the school that he is at has thus far done an excellent job of not placing much emphasis on the label, perhaps because it's an unofficial "diagnosis. I wish that there had been a different way for him to receive the extra support and help that he needed but that wasn't realistic. In light of how much he has blossomed with the extra support I am glad that we agreed to the label and I am also glad that we don't allow the label to define him.

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeanine

I have been looking something like that for 2 hours now. You have my thanks. Great page, clean design with easy to find parenting info

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeffrey

Are you aware that Aldort has disclaimed her Ph.D. http://clarificationstatement.blogspot.com/2011/07/clarification-statement.html

There is a discussion regarding this action at the Amazon page for the book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: http://www.amazon.com/Ph-Disclaim-Author-Naomi-Aldort/forum/FxNX8DH5IVLF0Z/Tx1OCP9NN6QGOBJ/1/ref=cm_cd_ef_rt_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&asin=1887542329

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterluckychrm

I wasn't aware, but I also don't think it matters to the discussion in this post. I didn't refer to her as a PhD and I was simply sharing an interesting quote for discussion by my readers. I do the same with a great many non-PhD writers too.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you for including my comment in the discussion. By all means, include whichever sources you desire in your blog postings, Ph.D.s or not. Not knowing if you would include my comment, I didn't want to load it down with a conversation that might have been spun out into the ether of deleted comments.

Your question, "What do you all think? Are labels useful or hurtful? Are they simply used by medical professionals to control their patients? Or can they be empowering for the patients themselves?" with reference to Naomi Aldort's statements in light of her Ph.D. disavowal inspired me to wonder:

What about the labels that the professionals use for themselves? How helpful are they, are they used to control patients and/or are they empowering for the patients themselves? If I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and a psychologist like Aldort told me that the label was self-limiting I think I'd feel a bit empowered to hear that from a Ph.D.

I think there is a true danger of harm when someone an individual believes to be a psychologist makes statements such as Aldort's, "All medical labels are nothing but the failing attempt of “professionals” to define what they don’t understand and to justify toxic and harmful medications." Sophisticated readers can see that as an opinion, but other readers may accept Aldort as a parenting expert and psychologist and not understand how to critically evaluate the claim. I linked to the discussion on Amazon because there is a parent there who has felt harmed by her adherence to Aldort's advice as given in sessions and has engaged two therapists to help address the damage in her family: http://www.amazon.com/review/ROBXY4QWAI2UP/ref=cm_cr_pr_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1887542329&nodeID=&tag=&linkCode=#wasThisHelpful

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterluckychrm

I can count on one hand the number of comments that I have deleted on this blog, which I think is a credit to my openness and to my wonderful readers who help maintain a respectful tone in discussions.

Thank you for clarifying and providing further context to your comment. I think that one of the biggest problems in parenting these days is the non-critical acceptance of the word of "experts" whether that is a non-credentialed author of a book, a talk show host, or a medical professional. I wish that more people would take the time to consider whether advice, regardless of the source, is going to work for their family and their child and whether it fits with their world view. Bad advice comes from all corners, as does good advice.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Another issue is that Aldort used her self-assigned PhD label to promote her business. Regardless of the quality of her advice, that's a major breach of trust for me. Caveat emptor and all that, but when I first encountered Aldort, she appeared to be a PhD psychologist with stellar reviews. Knowing that she's just another person with an opinion is important context for her unconventional (even by crunchy AP standards) advice.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

There's more about this Naomi Aldort controversy here:


July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnon of Cleves

You don't need an expert to know that it's silly to try to address anxiety with medication. It just doesn't make logical sense at all. You are anxious around people that bully you? Here have this pill. So yeah I don't think such labels help. It's all about names. What is the difference in saying that person has trouble with bowel movement and saying that person suffers from constipation? Either way you are gonna treat the problem. Why spend so much energy trying to define the problem?

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternanda

I have to say that once I found out that she used her phd to promote herself I felt it out all her other information into doubt. There is heaps of information out there along the same lines as what she is saying and I have to say the part that has been pulled out to discuss is very valid and a good point.
Once you have a label it is very hard to break out of it...it could be about your style of learning or your style of interaction with others. Once in a box with a label you don't often get to change.
It comes back to being non-judgmental...aka check out John Kabat Zinn.

But for some of us having a label can help us...as we now know what is the issue and we can find information on it to help ourselves.
For years I felt sure I had problems with dyslexia but after helping my own children learn and reading John Holt why children fail...I would have to say if was all about fear...and who wants to put that label out...someone gave me the fear...who wants to take that responceblity.
But having the label having the information means you can fix the problem.
In some cases.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

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