Ambitious "paradigm shift" fizzles
By now, you've seen the bad press about the American Psychiatric Association's new diagnostic codebook: Media pundits are labeling it "a manual run amok," so ambitious in scope that almost everyone qualifies for some mental illness or another.
But browsing through my crisp new copy, I find myself curiously dispassionate. Sure, it's even more bloated than the DSM-IV. But mainly, they just moved the chapters around and renamed a diagnosis here and there (dysthymia, for example, is now persistent depressive disorder). Even the typefaces will look familiar.
It's downright anticlimactic.
Remember when they first announced work on the new DSM? It was going to be a revolutionary "paradigm shift," aligning diagnoses with modern science. Disorders were going to be dimensional rather than categorical. All kinds of novel proposals were in play: Parental Alienation Syndrome. Paraphilic Coercive Disorder. Psychosis Risk Syndrome.
Then came the backlash. Prominent work group members walked out over the lack of science in the revision process. Petitions were launched. Special interest groups lobbied. ("Aspies," for example, were furious that psychiatry had bequeathed them an identity and were now taking it back.) The field trials fell apart. Even the National Institute of Mental Health announced it was breaking away from the DSM's diagnostic schema (although switching to its biology-worshipping Research Domain Criteria is like jumping from the frying pan to the fire).
Ultimately, the psychiatrists retreated. With both drug money and membership numbers down, the last thing the American Psychiatric Association needed was more negative flak. Especially when the DSM rakes in a steady profit, $5 to $6 million per year, giving them "fabulous riches" over time.
So, you'll find a few notable changes: There’s disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, a belated effort to undo the damage wrought by overdiagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder. Hoarding disorder and the Big-Pharma-inspired premenstrual dysphoric disorder made the cut. But overall, it's just business as usual.
Eventually, however, the DSM will become increasingly irrelevant. It's already being superseded by the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases, which even on the APA's home turf of the United States is now required for insurance reimbursement. While some tout ICD codes as preferable, the only real advantage of the ICD is that it is freely available online.
By design, the DSM codes are almost precisely parallel to the ICD's. And the entire diagnostic enterprise, as psychotherapist Gary Greenberg explores in The Book of Woe, is an elaborate fiction -- a shell game perpetrated by psychiatrists on patients, insurance companies, and (most critically for our purposes here) the courts. Greenberg spent two years mucking about in the DSM-5 development trenches, where work group members frankly acknowledged that psychiatric diagnoses are just "fictive placeholders" or "useful constructs" rather than real conditions that carve nature at its joints.