The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a giant catalog of behaviors and other complaints that cause people to suffer psychologically. If a person claims or admits to having a constellation of problems which fits one of the categories in the DSM, they can be diagnosed with that Mental Disorder. Most people who make these diagnoses as part of their living take this process very seriously, distinguishing between subtypes of ADHD in a client with the same seriousness as a doctor distinguishing between subtypes of breast cancer in a patient. This book has the answers. It is like the Bible for mental health diagnosticians.

Every decade or so, we get a new version of our Bible. Here are the six versions we’ve had since 1958.


We are about to get a new version this spring. This change-over is both exciting and awkward in a way that I don’t imagine new versions of other Bibles can be. When a new version of the Christian Bible come out, I imagine that the impact is mostly academic, and the new version may or may not catch on. With a new DSM, there is no choice for diagnosticians or their clients. In 1973, you could diagnose someone with Homosexuality Disorder. In 1975, you could not. The debate was over.

More often than disappearing, new disorders become available. Asperger’s Disorder, for example, appeared in version IV, in 1994. At other times the categories change in big ways, such as the much-talked-about removal of Asperger’s Disorder in the upcoming version V in favor of a more inclusive “Autism Spectrum.”

The awkwardness of this process is especially salient to me, just starting my internship as a family therapist. Since I live in California, I must do my 3,000 client-contact hours for licensure at a community clinic, which means I have to diagnose each of my clients with a qualifying Mental Disorder. To that end, I have been boning up on my diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV-TRI have to be really good at this to get the resources flowing for my clients. At the same time, I am aware that in a matter of weeks I will be learning not only new criteria and new Mental Disorders, but a whole new diagnostic process spelled out in the DSM-V.