Transformative Diagnosis

I have just published a post on the College of Physicians Library in Philadelphia about the transformative power of diagnosis.

The Sentence of Death from the Wellcome Collection

The moment a serious diagnosis is announced is a solemn one, in which a kind of “truth” is delivered. Note that this image is called “the sentence” of death, linking diagnosis with legal metaphors. Diagnosis is cast as a moment of transformation, a concept I discuss on this linked blog, but of course, in my book, Diagnosis: Truths and Tales.

I explore this belief in my new book which looks at all the ways in which we represent diagnosis as a moment of truth. It’s hard to think of it in any other way. But let’s unpack that a bit…

It’s actually not the name of the malady itself that is meaningful, rather it is the link of the diagnosis with prognosis, treatment and identity. To receive a diagnosis is to organise a disorder, and give it meaning.


My book considers other ways in which we could discuss serious diagnoses, other narratives which unlink the diagnosis with the sense of self, and the leave the individual intact.

However, it is clear, as my book shows, that popular culture uses diagnosis as a an important narrative tool to underline change, risk, and of course, transformation.

In order to be able to imagine other ways of narrating diagnosis, we need to take a step back and think about the limitations of thinking of it as we do, the reasons we think of it in this way, and the options available for thinking differently.

Can you imagine diagnosis in another guise? What would it look like?

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