Psychologists and psychiatrists have classified psychological disorders into
categories. Classification allows clinicians and researchers to describe disorders,
predict outcomes, consider treatments, and encourage research into their etiology.
Psychologists and psychiatrists use a reference book called the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(DSM) to diagnose psychological disorders. The
American Psychiatric Association published the first version of the
DSM in 1952. It has been revised several times, and the newest
version is commonly referred to as the DSM-IV.
The DSM-IV uses a multi-axial system of classification,
which means that diagnoses are made on several different axes or dimensions. The
DSM has five axes:
- Axis I records the
patient’s primary diagnosis.
- Axis II records
long-standing personality problems or mental retardation.
- Axis III records any
medical conditions that might affect the patient psychologically.
- Axis IV records any
significant psychosocial or environmental problems experienced by the
- Axis V records an
assessment of the patient’s level of functioning.
Criticisms of the DSM
Although the DSM is used worldwide and considered a very
valuable tool for diagnosing psychological disorders, it has been criticized for
- Some critics believe it can lead to normal problems of living
being turned into “diseases.” For example, a child who displays the
inattentive and hyperactive behavior normally seen in young children
could be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder by an
overzealous clinician. In earlier versions of the DSM,
homosexuality was listed as a disorder.
- Some critics argue that including relatively minor problems such as
caffeine-induced sleep disorder in the DSM will cause
people to liken these problems to serious disorders such as schizophrenia or
- Other critics argue that giving a person a diagnostic label can be
harmful because a label can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A child
diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may have difficulty
overcoming his problems if he or other people accept the diagnosis as the
sole aspect of his personality.
- Some critics point out that the DSM makes the process
of diagnosing psychological disorders seem scientific when, in fact,
diagnosis is highly subjective.
In general, psychologists view the DSM as a valuable tool
that, like all tools, has the potential for misuse. The DSM
contains many categories of disorders, and the following sections will cover a
few of these categories.