The early editions of the DSM were chaotic. With more recent editions, there have been attempts to cluster symptoms into disorders in a way that is more useful: that allows for meaningful research and allows clinicians to have some diagnostic reliability. It gives us a language, though anyone who tries to talk about disorders that occur on a spectrum, disorders that are suddenly omnipresent, and so-called waste-basket diagnoses, knows we still have a long way to go.
The "science" of it aside, the new DSM has been fraught with years of political derision. Let me talk just a little about the dilemma of creating diagnostic categories.
On one side, there are those who don't like the idea of labeling people with diagnoses that may stigmatize them, limit their opportunities in the future, send negative and potentially damning messages that the prognosis as a mentally ill person is bleak, or that categorize normal human reactions as psychiatric disorders. To these individuals, it would be best if there were fewer diagnoses that captured few people. The question gets raised as to whether certain conditions -- including issues involving sexual orientation and gender identity-- should be classified as 'illnesses' or embraced for their diversity. Sometimes these issues are dependent on our culture, and as our culture evolves, our definitions of what constitute illness must also bend. If you have a few minutes, by all means, read Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree. He doesn't limit the question of disease versus diversity to psychiatric illnesses, but he includes a few.
On the other side, there are those who want to be captured by a diagnosis. The politics of it includes the fact that diagnosis is no longer simply about agreement for the sake of research, best treatment, and prognosis. It now is about money (isn't everything?). If you don't have a diagnosis, you can't submit a claim to an insurance company. So a person who wants to talk to a shrink about rough things going on in their life and have that covered by insurance or permitted in a clinic can only do that if there is a diagnosis, even if that diagnosis is Adjustment Disorder. Without a diagnosis you can't access certain services like psychosocial rehabilitation programs, case management services, a wide variety of educational provisions for children which may include smaller classrooms, personal aides, and the extension of educational services until age 21. A diagnosis may even get someone a free fishing license. And diagnosis justifies treatment with medications, which are sometimes quite helpful. If you're shy, it's who you are. If you have social anxiety disorder, you can take a pill, and that's good for the pharmaceutical company that makes that pill. I don't like to pass judgement on these things: I don't believe that one person should stand over another raging "You have Social Anxiety, you need medicine!" but to the patient who feels he's suffering and his suffering is alleviated by the pill, I'd like him to have the choice. (Though maybe we don't need direct-to-consumer advertisers telling people they have illnesses?) Finally, diagnoses may explain the inability to work and the provision for governmental support. So while there are people who want the DSM to go away, to have less diagnoses, to be spared having their stories captured as mental disorders, there are those who hope to be captured by these categories, who hope for more of them, so they can access treatment, services, medicines, provisions & allowances. And the APA is not immune, they will be selling the DSM-V, charging for courses, bending some money their way. They've put a tremendous amount into hashing out these categories, and what organization doesn't do things to make money?
We haven't said much about the DSM-V here on Shrink Rap. There's not much to say at this point. Personally, I'd be a bit more interested if a major change to my paperwork life -- which suddenly seems to take hours more a day than it once did-- was not coming on the heals of the CPT Code changes (I'll spare you the links). Over on PsychPractice there is a survey and discussion about concerns about the new DSMV and Massachusetts General Hospital has done a survey on clinician concerns and has a white paper on the topic.
Me? I'm hoping someone will tell me what codes to use and it won't have much impact on my life.
And how do you feel?