Friday, December 31, 2004
An article in this week's New Yorker magazine by Alix Spiegel examines how psychiatrist Robert Spitzer transformed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders into the invaluable publication it is today. The article states,
"Robert Spitzer isn’t widely known outside the field of mental health, but he is, without question, one of the most influential psychiatrists of the twentieth century. It was Spitzer who took the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the official listing of all mental diseases recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (A.P.A.)—and established it as a scientific instrument of enormous power. Because insurance companies now require a DSM diagnosis for reimbursement, the manual is mandatory for any mental-health professional seeking compensation. It’s also used by the court system to help determine insanity, by social-services agencies, schools, prisons, governments, and, occasionally, as a plot device on “The Sopranos.” This magnitude of cultural authority, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon . . . . Under Spitzer’s direction—which lasted through the DSM-III, published in 1980, and the DSM-IIIR (“R” for “revision”), published in 1987—both the girth of the DSM and its stature substantially increased. It is now nine hundred pages, defines close to three hundred mental illnesses, and sells hundreds of thousands of copies, at eighty-three dollars each. But a mere description of the physical evolution of the DSM doesn’t fully capture what Spitzer was able to accomplish. In the course of defining more than a hundred mental diseases, he not only revolutionized the practice of psychiatry but also gave people all over the United States a new language with which to interpret their daily experiences and tame the anarchy of their emotional lives.