The Diagnosis of Mental Disorders: The Problem of Reification

Annual Review of Clinical Psychology

Vol. 6:155-179 (Volume publication date 27 April 2010)
First published online as a Review in Advance on January 4, 2010
https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.3.022806.091532

Abstract

A pressing need for interrater reliability in the diagnosis of mental disorders emerged during the mid-twentieth century, prompted in part by the development of diverse new treatments. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), third edition answered this need by introducing operationalized diagnostic criteria that were field-tested for interrater reliability. Unfortunately, the focus on reliability came at a time when the scientific understanding of mental disorders was embryonic and could not yield valid disease definitions. Based on accreting problems with the current DSM-fourth edition (DSM-IV) classification, it is apparent that validity will not be achieved simply by refining criteria for existing disorders or by the addition of new disorders. Yet DSM-IV diagnostic criteria dominate thinking about mental disorders in clinical practice, research, treatment development, and law. As a result, the modern DSM system, intended to create a shared language, also creates epistemic blinders that impede progress toward valid diagnoses. Insights that are beginning to emerge from psychology, neuroscience, and genetics suggest possible strategies for moving forward.

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