Since 1952, psychiatrists have used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is currently in its fifth edition, as the gold standard for diagnosing psychiatric (mental) disorders. For many years, it’s been considered to basically be the “bible” that all psychiatrists use to diagnose and categorize patient symptoms.

Despite this, I have never been pleased with the categorization system in the DSM. I have actually found it to be basically useless in my clinical practice and rarely see patients as existing in the neat categories which the DSM describes. I have found that in real life, patients are much more complex and their “symptoms” are also better explained in terms of traumatic experiences, cultural phenomena, lifestyle patterns, and in other ways that are more complex and nuanced than what exists in the DSM.

A recent study finally confirmed what I had felt for years: psychiatric diagnoses are scientifically worthless as tools to identify discrete mental health disorders. Researchers from the University of Liverpool found that:

  • Psychiatric diagnoses all use different decision-making rules
  • There is a huge amount of overlap in symptoms between diagnoses
  • Almost all diagnoses mask the role of trauma and adverse events
  • Diagnoses tell us little about the individual patient and what treatment they need

Hopefully this study will be noticed by many psychiatrists who will start to rethink our current methods of classifying mental disorders. I’m hopeful that a better and more comprehensive understanding of what mental disorders actually are and how to treat them will lead to some much needed dramatic shifts in the field of psychiatric treatment.