The American Psychiatric Association is a membership organization of psychiatrists and is responsible for publishing the hefty Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . It’s the go-to book for psychotherapist, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. relative to diagnosing mental distress.
The current version, the DSM-IV, was published in 1994 with a significant Text Revision (TR) version (the DSM-IV TR) published in 2000. The APA has been working on DSM-V for several years and it’s due to hit bookshelves in finalized form sometime in 2012.
Why should you care? Well, there’s several reasons. If you seek psychotherapy or other mental health services, what’s included and not included in the manual (as well as the relative weight given to what’s included) has an impact on what services you can receive and what your insurance company (if you have one) will pay for. There are also implications for special education services for children; the DSM is seen as a guideline for what constitutes an educational disability and therefore helps determine which children get what kinds or services or, in some cases, determines which school a child can attend.
The DSM also affects our lives in less obvious ways: The language of the DSM has a profound cultural impact far beyond its use in diagnosis. It influences how we talk about and relate to a cornucopia of human activities and experiences. It privileges certain interpretations of emotions, behaviors and attitudes about how we are and how we relate to one another.
One notable example of the DMS’s influence? Until 1973, the APA listed homosexuality as a diagnosable mental disorder. The DSM-IV TR controversially still includes among disorders diagnosed in childhood, “Gender Identity Disorder.”
Interested in learning more about the changes proposed for the DSM-V? APA has set up a website where the public can browse through the changes and leave comments.
You can also email me your thoughts and questions about the DSM-V and its broader implications.