Bias in psychiatric diagnosis website exposes problems with new DSM-5

The Association for Women in Psychology recently announced extensive updates to the "Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis" section on its website at According to AWP Spokesperson Audrey Ervin, the updates "highlight a myriad of concerns about the upcoming 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) that is scheduled to be released in 2013."

As many readers of this blog are aware, the DSM-5 is to be published by the American Psychiatric Association, and previous editions have been used to diagnose what its authors label "mental disorders." However, notes Ervin in a recent press release, however, numerous individuals and organizations, "including three editors of previous DSM editions...[and] the Association for Women in Psychology and the American Counseling Association, have expressed misgivings about the ethics, science, implications and processes involved with the new manual development."

I have had the honor of working with an AWP committee of academics, researchers and clinicians on this section of the AWP website, and our aim is to provide information for mental health professionals, journalists and other interested individuals about newly proposed diagnostic categories and problems with psychiatric diagnosis.

As noted in the press release, "The website hosts a collection of materials that provide evidence of discrimination, lack of empirical evidence and critiques of the DSM-5 manual preparation process. Articles on the site highlight newly proposed diagnoses, such as obesity and female sexual dysfunction, that are under-researched, have limited empirical support, and are politically motivated or based on methodologically weak studies. There is concern that the medicalization of normal, everyday or socially-created problems will falsely inflate the rates of mental disorders."

Some of the problematic categories of diagnosis addressed on the website are ones about which I have written in this blog, including Female Sexual Dysfunction, Gender Identity Disorder, Obesity, Parental Alienation Syndrome, and Paraphilic Coercive Disorder. Also addressed on the AWP site are Anorexia Nervosa, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, as well as racial bias and social class bias in diagnosis.

As Ervin notes: "Several psychiatric diagnoses may be more related to social marginalization, poverty and discrimination than individual pathology; however, individuals are labeled with little regard to circumstance. Biological and medical factors are being overemphasized while political, social, cultural and systemic issues are being minimized or ignored, despite the bulk of social science research that substantiates the magnitude of contextual factors."

The Bias in Psychiatric website includes articles, related references, links, and announcements about conferences and publications and is located at
The Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) is a scientific and educational professional organization of psychologists and other social scientists committed to encouraging feminist psychological research, practice, theory and activism.
Ervin may be contacted at

©Copyright 2011 Paula J. Caplan                       All rights reserved

About the Author

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D.

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.

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