Tuesday, February 16, 2010
DSM: The Everlasting Gobstopper of Psychiatry
The DSM is the Everlasting Gobstopper of psychiatry, providing a seemingly endless store of material for bloggers, journalists, academics, and other commentators.
I looked through the comments on my last post and was impressed by how articulate they were. I'll spend the next few posts commenting on some of the comments. How's that for narcissistic exploitation of one's own blog?
S pointed out that “a reasonable, experienced, compassionate doctor will not be bound up by DSM diagnoses,” and accurately followed that up with “but I suspect all of us here know that there are plenty of doctors who can't see past rigid categorization or have a two-dimensional view of their patients.”
I agree. Michael First, who was the editor of DSM-IV, once told me, “We used to joke that DSM should come with a combination lock and you can only open the book if you agree to really explore what is going on in the patient’s minds.” I think of DSM is a map into the mental world. It allows us to locate a patient in a general region, but not much more than that. To truly make the diagnosis, we have to do the messy work of talking with the patient and exploring what’s going on. In fact, the term “diagnosis” is a misnomer and should probably never have been borrowed from the rest of medicine, since it implies a precision utterly lacking in psychiatry circa 2010.
Dr. Peter Huang likes the new dimensional aspects of the DSM-V, but is concerned that the new disorders being proposed "will serve as an even bigger seed that Big Pharma + the APA + the FDA will use to increase further the insanely vast quantities of psych meds that are prescribed.” This is also Dr. Allen Frances' main critique in his essay, Opening Pandora’s Box: The 19 Worst Suggestions For DSM5. I agree that this is an inevitable consequence of elaborating the DSM, but only if we psychiatrists acquiesce. Some of these "changes" represent little more than a shuffling around of criteria from one label to another. The two risk syndromes (for psychosis and dementia) are potentially more insidious and might be exploited by drug companies for commercial gain. For this reason, I find it rather unlikely that both will make it into the final version--I predict that mild dementia (in the new vocab, "mild neurocognitive disorder") will make it through the gauntlet, but not "risk syndrome for psychosis."
Dr. Joseph Arpaia points out that DSM is mute when it comes to how the environment produces psychiatric symptoms: “The minimizing of the environmental effects means that the brain's attempts to adapt to the environment are seen as inherent brain pathology. This is as absurd as stating that an immune response to a bacterial invasion is an inherent immune pathology.”
However, the reason DSM does not mention environment is that it attempts to be “agnostic” when it comes to statements of causation. Yes, depression can be caused by many things but DSM simply runs down the list of symptoms. This speaks to the issue of how the document is used. If someone invented a DSM robot (perhaps in Freud's likeness), such a machine would, indeed, simply go through the lists and makes a bunch of diagnoses divorced from context. But thoughtful clinicians, whether psychiatrists or psychologists or social workers, don’t use the manual this way. Don't expect DSM to be more than it is, which is bare-bones descriptive psychiatry. At this point, we know too little about causation to do anything more than describe symptoms.
That's all for now--stay tuned for our next installment of "Commenting on the Commenters."
at 9:28 AM