FEATURE: DSM-5

Division 32's project to reform DSM-5: An informative overview

Division 32's "Open Letter to the DSM-5 Task Force and the American Psychiatric Association," citing concerns about the task force's proposals, has met with unexpected and overwhelming support

In the spring of 2011, the British Psychological Society (BPS) provided a critique of the proposed DSM-5, raising serious concerns about numerous proposals by the DSM-5 Task Force. When David Elkins became president of Division 32, Society for Humanistic Psychology, American Psychological Association (APA), in August, 2011, he asked the Division 32 Executive Committee to support his recommendation that Division 32 follow BPS’s example and raise concerns of its own. The recommendation was unanimously approved by the 14-member Executive Committee.

Elkins appointed Brent Dean Robbins, Secretary of Division 32, and Sarah R. Kamens, Student Representative to Division 32 and Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology at Fordham University, to join him as members of a three-person ad hoc committee.  The committee prepared an “Open Letter to the DSM-5 Task Force and the American Psychiatric Association.” Kamens, who had studied the DSM-5 development process for two years, drafted the letter. The draft was edited by Elkins and Robbins, along with Kevin Keenan (a member of the Division 32 Executive Committee). The Open Letter was then submitted to the Division 32 Executive Committee for approval. The open letter provided a scholarly critique of several problematic portions of the proposed DSM-5.*

In early October, 2011, Elkins sent the Open Letter by e-mail attachment to various APA Divisions, inviting them to sign. Two Divisions — Division 27 ( Society for Community Research and Action: Division of Community Psychology) and Division 49 (Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy) were the first Divisions to sign. Presidents of those two early signers contacted Elkins by e-mail to say they wished to endorse the Open Letter.

On October 22, 2011, the Open Letter was quietly posted at a petition website without publicity or fanfare, inviting professionals to read the letter and, if they agreed with it, to sign the petition. The results were unexpected and overwhelming. In only one week more than 2,000 psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals had signed the letter, along with several psychology organizations. Those numbers have now grown to over 8,000 signatures and more than 35 endorsing organizations. The numbers continue to grow as signatures and endorsements come in daily. For up-to-date totals, please visit the petition website.

As detailed in the Open Letter, which is the Division 32 Open Letter Committee's official scholarly statement of concerns about the proposed DSM-5, the following is a summary of the central concerns regarding the DSM-5 proposals:  (a) the lack of scientific basis for some of the new DSM-5 diagnoses; (b) the lowering of diagnostic thresholds in several categories, raising the specter that hundreds of thousands of young children, adolescents, and the elderly who experience normative distress might be labeled with a mental disorder and treated with psychiatric drugs that have dangerous side effects; and (c) the introduction of new disorder categories that may result in harm, especially to vulnerable populations, exacerbating the current national problem of overzealous and inappropriate prescribing of psychiatric drugs.

Action Requested

If you have not signed the Open Letter, please go the petition website, read the letter, and sign the petition if you agree with it. Then, alert all your colleagues to the letter and invite them to sign also. The effectiveness of the letter will depend on the number of signatures that are accumulated.

There is also a brief video that goes to the heart of concerns about the proposed DSM-5. You can watch this very brief video.