Science Isn't Golden

Matters of the mind and heart

Patients Harmed by Diagnosis Find Their Voices

Victims of psychiatric labeling file ethics complaints.

I have been working intensively for many months with people who have had their lives damaged -- some forever -- because they were given labels from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a product whose latest edition has brought $100 million in profit for its publisher, the American Psychiatric Association, but that is not scientifically grounded, helps little, and leads to a devastating array of kinds of harm.

Yesterday and today, in what appears not to have been done before, a number of them are filing ethics complaints with the APA. Very early this morning, I filed my own complaint as an "interested party" who has for more than a quarter of a century seen from the inside the way the DSM people play fast and loose with the science yet have somehow managed to convince many professionals and much of the public that their manual is scientifically grounded, and during that time I have heard from many hundreds of people who have been seriously harmed — and not helped — in a stunning array of ways because of getting one or more DSM labels. I had personally in conversations and then in many of my writings made the powers-that-be aware of these problems, and I have been deeply troubled by both their failure to publicize the unscientific nature of their manual and their failure to take steps to gather systematically any evidence of harm and to redress past harm and prevent future harm.

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Part of the story is in this article, which went up yesterday on the Washington Post online under the headline "Psychiatry's Bible, the DSM, is doing more harm than good," and is to appear in print on Sunday.

It is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/psychiatrys-bible-the-dsm-...

Some people say they wanted their labels in order to get insurance coverage so that they could get help, and it is true that the insurance companies, school systems, the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare, and Medicaid hold many people hostage by refusing to pay for their therapy if they don't have a psychiatric label. At psychdiagnosis.net, I describe six different solutions to these kinds of dilemmas, because of course people who are suffering deserve to get help. But no matter how the systems work, everyone needs to know of the dangers.

The courageous attorney Jim Gottstein of psychrights.org first made me aware of the APA's complaints process and their ethical standards. Then I received invaluable help from attorney Jeffery Wilson, Judge David Dunlap, psychologist David H. Jacobs, and researcher Emily H. Cohen.

I hope that the filing of these complaints will move the APA to take steps to make important changes and that it will make others aware of the dangers that may await them when they go to see even the most well-meaning professional. So many people have become mental health professionals because they want to help people who are suffering, and a lot of them have told me how devastated they have been to learn that even the mildest-sounding labels that they have given their patients have been used against them in courts, by family and friends, by employers and prospective employers, by health insurance companies, by the miitary and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and by those who want to deprive them of their right to make their own medical and legal decisions. Massive public and professional education is one way to reduce the harm, and it would be good if the APA took a leadership role in doing this, given that their profit-making product, the manual, has been the source of so much damage.

©2012 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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