I read the following, by Steven Wolin, in Froma Walsh’s Spiritual Resources in Family Therapy, and it brought tears to my eyes. The “DSM” he mentions is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the medical-style Bible of human psychological problems:

“Now, the DSM-IV was written by people , many of them psychologists, who have figured out every conceivable thing that can go wrong with us, which is very impressive. But I would like to suggest that it’s fundamentally, unintentionally, and insidiously violent to name someone by what’s wrong with them.”

I underlined that quote and thought I’d want to write something about it here. In class that week, it became clear that just about every other person in my cohort had underlined the same passage. We have all just taken a class on DSM diagnosis, because we will have to do it, out there in the world. Insurance companies won’t pay for problems that don’t have medical-sounding names. Major depressive disorder? Here, have some money. Isolated from any kind of supportive community, except for your mom, who you can’t stand for some reason? Hey, get a real problem, preferably one that we have a pill for.

Anyway, I think we all underlined that passage in part because it was so refreshing, after thinking so much about diagnostic categories. It’s also because that quote captures the spirit of the Couples and Family Therapy program we are in, and we were selected by our faculty because quotes like that would resonate with us. It’s also because it’s so dang true. When you hear how many mental health professionals talk about their clients, it can be awful. “I’ve got a Borderline at five o’clock,” as if what really matters about that human being is that their behavior fits the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder.

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