Science Isn't Golden

Matters of the mind and heart

Challenging of DSM-5 Growing Fast

Many Divisions of American Psychological Association Support Anti-DSM Petition


Many Divisions of American Psychological Association Support Anti-DSM Petition


More than a quarter of a century ago, I became involved in some dangerous, new psychiatric labels just proposed for the then-upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I had been contacted by feminist psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller, whose brilliant, crystal-clear book, Toward a New Psychology of Women, had affected me deeply. She and other psychiatrists and psychologists, led by Teresa Bernardez and including Judy Herman and Lenore Walter, had spoken up against these new proposals, and the DSM committee had designated some people to meet with the women about the "controversial diagnoses."

Jean Baker Miller invited me to attend that meeting and speak. As described in my book, They Say You're Crazy: How the World's Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who's Normal, I entered that meeting having been an advocate of the DSM, given that I had believed the publicity claims that it was a scientifically-grounded document. In the meeting, I was horrified by the sloppiness of the thinking evidenced by the DSM committee members and by their apparent lack of concern about the harm that would clearly result from use of these labels.

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A few months later, attending the annual conference of the Association for Women in Psychology, I spoke about what I had learned, and I started a petition campaign about the proposed categories. That campaign grew to include not only signatures from individuals but also letters from major organizations in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere (the DSM is a multi-million-dollar business, because the book is translated into dozens of language and marketed increasingly widely throughout the world), ultimately representing more than six million people expressing their alarm. That failed to stop the DSM committee from charging ahead with their plans, though those two categories went into what was presented as a "Provisional Appendix for Categories Requiring Further Study." But those categories were nevertheless widely used, and the DSM people did not even include so much as a statement that the labels should not be applied to anyone, given that the empirical support for their very existence was lacking.

Every time a new edition of the DSM is published, whoever is its editor announces that the reason a new edition was needed is that the previous one was not scientific. I have never seen evidence of a single journalist saying, "That's what we heard the last time."

Now the DSM-5 is in preparation, and even the editors of the three previous editions -- who claimed at their respective times that their editions were scientific -- have made strong public statements filled with mea culpas, acknowledging that their editions harmed many people and were profoundly flawed in their scientific bases. (Indeed, as I described in my book, they regularly cite shoddy research when it suits their purposes, and when good research would lead one to question what they want to do, they ignore, distort, even lie about it. And although I used the word "lie" in my book, since its 1995 publication no one has breathed a word about suing me for libel. They know that from the time I served temporarily as an "advisor or consultant" to two DSM-IV committees, I have masses of internal documents, as well as published research, to back up every statement in the book.). It is fascinating that the previous editors make their statements without citing the many people who wrote copiously to cite the very concerns that the former are now, suddenly (why might that be?) discovering. It is better that they speak out than keep silent, however.

Led by Dr. David Elkins, three divisions of the American Psychological Association (an APA which decades ago expressed grave concerns about the DSM but for a long time now has not done so, while making money from Continuing Education courses about the DSM that are taught with no critical component whatsoever) created a petition campaign, in which they express some of the above concerns. You can find the petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/dsm5/. Please consider signing it. As of now, the number of APA divisions supporting the petition has increased to a dozen, and at last count, 6,000 people had signed on.

If you want to read some very brief, accessibly-written descriptions of some of the concerns about the lack of science and the presence of all kinds of bias in psychiatric diagnosis, you can find some at the AWP site at awpsych.org in the Bias in Psych Diagnosis section (where you can also find on the home page a link to the current petition) and in the AWP-sponsored book, Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis.

The DSM enterprise is so powerful, and because psychiatric diagnosis is totally unregulated, the current DSM editors so far seem to be ignoring the concerns expressed as intently as the editors of the previous editions did when they were in power. But if we remain silent, then for sure, nothing will change.

And that is alarming, because these diagnoses are causing untold numbers of people all over the world are losing jobs, health insurance, custody of their children, the right to make decisions about their medical and legal affairs (and way more -- see psychdiagnosis.net for documentation of 53 stories of people's lives that were ruined in a huge variety of ways because of receiving psychiatric labels).

©2011 by Paula J. Caplan                      All Rights Reserved

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is an Associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and former Fellow in Harvard Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program. more...

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