DSM-V


I wanted to call this post “advice for taking and passing the LMFT exam” but it turns out, having passed last week, that I don’t have much advice to give. The problem is that the ways the exam is hard are not things you can prepare for. I’ll describe that situation, for what it’s worth, then describe the process of taking the test, and give the few pieces of advice I can offer. Take that advice with several grains of salt, though, because when you pass, they don’t tell you your score. I have no idea if I passed with flying colors or barely scraped by. For reasons I’m about to get into, I wouldn’t be surprised either way. I really can’t say if I over-prepared and rocked it or underprepared and got lucky.

The material you have to know is not that hard. With a few exceptions, it’s the same stuff you learned in your grad school program, the same stuff you’ve been drilling in your internship. The test is hard mostly because the writing is terrible. Have you ever read something that has been passed through several languages in a translator program, then back into English? That is how the questions, and especially the answers, read. Most of them. They often barely make sense and some of it is complete nonsense. I doubt they used the translator trick, so it may be that they looked up the most obscure synonym for each word and then garbled up the grammar a bit to top it off. I would be ashamed to be associated with the writing of that exam. I do not consider it an ethical way to make an exam difficult. Unfortunately, that is the situation.

The second reason it is hard is that you have to read and comprehend all of that garble at lightning speed. I read at a slightly above average speed with high comprehension and I had twelve minutes left at the end to review my marked questions. Twelve minutes left at the end of a four hour test.

So that’s my first piece of advice: If you’re a slower than average reader, see what you can do for special accommodations on time, and definitely if English is your second language. I don’t know what’s available in that way, but look into it and take what you can get.

The third reason is that it’s just difficult to sit and concentrate that hard for four hours without stopping. Your body will hurt, if it has that tendency. If you have body or pain issues I would look into what accommodations they have to offer.

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The process of taking the test: I took mine in Riverside, so this may vary, and because you have to take the ethics exam right away now, you probably know all of this stuff already. You can skip this and the next paragraphs. PSI, the testing company has a suite in an office building. You walk into their lobby and the staff signs you in, takes your photo, and you wait a bit. The staff is very nice and professional. There is a rack to hang your coat and you can get a locker. (The PSI materials say that you don’t get a locker, but you can.) They let me take my migraine meds in on a tissue, but you can’t take anything else. I wished I’d worn a long sleeve shirt because it was a bit cool for me and I couldn’t take my sweatshirt in. They provide a pencil and scratch paper. You sit in one of fifteen or twenty cubicles with a PC computer, mouse, and keyboard. It’s pretty quiet. They offer you earplugs but I didn’t need them, and I’m pretty sensitive to noise. You run through some instructions and practice questions to get the hang of it. It’s pretty easy. Then you start the test and have four hours to finish 170 questions. That’s less than 90 seconds per question. There are three or four counters at the top of your screen, counting questions, up and down, and time. I can’t remember if the timer counted up or down or both, but I remember it being pretty easy to use. I would occasionally multiply my number of questions answered by 1.5 to make sure I was on track to get through every question. For example, after answering question 40, I could check that I was well under one hour into the exam. You can take breaks whenever you want, but the clock won’t stop. I took two breaks. The first was about a minute, to eat a few bites of a date bar I left in my coat pocket, about an hour and a half into the exam. The second was to pee, at about three hours in. That took five or six minutes, because the bathroom is down the hall and the staff has to escort you. I’m glad I took the breaks. I imagine that seven or eight extra minutes at the end of the exam would not have been very useful after hours of low blood sugar and holding pee.

If you have any time left, you can go back and look at questions you marked. I had time to look at a few and changed one answer. Then you finish. They make you click “yes” on a few versions of “Yes, I understand this will end my test and I can’t go back” before ending, so you can’t end the test accidentally. You walk back out into the lobby, grab your stuff, and get your results. I think if you fail they tell you your score, but I’m not sure. There is also the possibility that the BBS is re-analyzing how the exam is performing and you won’t find out if you passed for another month or so. That happened to me for my ethics exam, and it’s much nicer to know immediately how you did. I was in a bit of a daze after the exam and walked around the roads near the test center for a while before I felt like driving.

——

To prepare for the exam, I bought the Therapist Development Center’s MFT Clinical Exam package and did their 65 hour (versus 110 hour) track. I can’t say how it compares to Grossman or AATBS because I’ve never seen those packages. I can say that I used a Grossman practice-test package to study for the ethics exam and passed, but I’m pretty sure that I spent too much time studying that way. I basically tried to reverse-engineer the test using the practice tests plus the legal statutes and CAMFT Code of Ethics, which took a long time—a little over 70 hours of dedicated studying. The TDC package helped me avoid rabbit holes and working too long. TDC’s 65-hour track took me 68 hours to complete, plus I did an extra eight hours of study on the DSM-5, having been trained exclusively on the DSM-IV-TR. I made two outlines of the DSM-5, one of timeline information, like how long you need symptoms for each diagnosis, and one for age limit information. (I put those up here and here.) I also spent about four hours reading (and rereading) the CAMFT Code of Ethics, California statutes, and legal/ethics articles from CAMFT’s Therapist magazine archives.

Again, I have no idea how I would have done without studying that way, but I went in feeling as well-prepared as I could have. I barely studied the last couple days before the test because I felt like I knew the material. I remember thinking, “If I don’t pass, I’m not sure what I will do for the next four months, because I already know this stuff.”

So I can recommend the Therapist Development Center material. The extra DSM study didn’t help me that I remember on the exam—the TDC coverage would have been enough. I could probably say the same for the Code of Ethics and statutes reading. I don’t recall the test getting very nit-picky about any of that stuff. That’s not how they made the exam difficult, though I would have preferred it that way. Even if it was extra studying, I feel good about having done it. We MFTs should know that stuff cold.

That was likely the last multi-hour multiple choice exam I’ll ever have to take. I’m fine with that. Now it’s time to focus on setting up my private practice!

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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.

DSMs

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.

PTSD was recognized in the early 1970s and formalized in 1980, largely the result of work by and with US veterans of the war in Vietnam. Many people who think about these things consider this recognition to be a turning point in psychological diagnosis. In fact, one way of thinking about psychological diagnosis is that most of what we now call Mental Disorders are basically variants of PTSD–the ways that different people respond to different traumas. If the committee working on version V of the DSM were to humor us, they might rename the tome The North American and European Catalog of Post-Traumatic Stress Behavior Patterns Plus a Few Other Human Difficulties.

Here’s a fuzzy map from the wikipedia article, showing PTSD rates. The darker the red, the more PTSD, and the lighter the yellow, the less:

Here are the criteria, word for word, from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR, pages 467 and 468:

Diagnostic criteria for 309.81 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:

(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others

(2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: In children, this may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior

B. The traumatic event is persistently reexperienced in one (or more) of the following ways:

(1) recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: In young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.

(2) recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.

(3) acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated). Note: In young children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur.

(4) intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

(5) physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by three (or More ) of the following:

(1) efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma

(2) efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma

(3) inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma

(4) markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities

(5) feeling of detachment or estrangement from others

(6) restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)

(7) sense of a foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:

(1) difficulty falling or staying asleep

(2) irritability or outbursts of anger

(3) difficulty concentrating

(4) hypervigilance

(5) exaggerated startle response

E. Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in Criteria B, C, and D) is more than 1 month.

F. The distrubance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Specify if:

Acute: if duration of symptoms is less than 3 months

Chronic: if duration of symptoms is 3 months or more

Specify if:

With Delayed Onset: if onset of symptoms is at least 6 months after the stressor

There is quite a bit of controversy about it, but it looks as if Asperger’s Disorder will only be around for a couple more years. This diagnosis will probably get the axe in the upcoming DSM-V, when it arrives, subsumed into the so-called Autism Spectrum. It will be interesting to watch how a change in language will change how we think about a certain constellation of behaviors. If you’re interested, I have a link here to the proposed changes to the DSM.

Please read my disclaimer here about diagnosing yourself or anyone you know. The short version is, you can’t do it.

And, for the time being, here are the diagnostic criteria, word-for-word from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, page 84. As with Autistic Disorder, note the absence of qualities we may think of as common in Asperger’s Disorder, such as being picky about food or other things, being sensitive to things like noise or texture, any visual processing abnormalities such as non-susceptibility to visual illusion, being easily upset, self-harming behaviors, high IQ or “splinter skills.” None of these are considered in the diagnosis.

Diagnostic criteria for 299.80 Asperger’s Disorder

A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

(1) marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction

(2) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level

(3) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)

(4) lack of social or emotional reciprocity

B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

(1) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus

(2) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals

(3) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)

(4) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years).

E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skill, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood.

F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia.

The existence of Gender Identity Disorder as an official mental disorder is troubling to the trans folks I know. They think of their condition they way most people now think about homosexuality: It’s just another normal way to be a human being that makes people who don’t understand it so afraid that they’ve called it a disorder. Some people are just born into bodies that don’t match their psychological gender.

There are other problems. There is the DSM’s requirement to specify whether the diagnosed individual is attracted to males, females, both, or neither. If homosexuality is not a mental disorder, why should it matter clinically what genders a transsexual is attracted to? Then there’s the fact that GID is in the DSM right next to the sexual disorders like sexual sadism, masochism, and pedophilia. What is the connection?

So in a way, it would be great to get GID removed from the DSM, like homosexuality was in the 1970s. Unfortunately, if GID were not an official mental disorder, insurance companies wouldn’t pay for the expensive surgeries and hormone treatments involved in transitioning. According to my friends, living in a body of the wrong sex is so painful and humiliating that many pre-operation trans folks kill themselves, while suicide is rare for those who do who get the operations. So if you are poor and trans, your life may depend on GID being an official mental disorder.

There may be some changes coming to the diagnosis (see here) in the upcoming DSM-V, and my friends are saying they sound somewhat better. Here’s how they stand right now, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR:

Diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder

A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex).

In children, the disturbance is manifested by four (or more) of the following:

(1) repeatedly stated desire to be, or insistence that he or she is, the other sex

(2) in boys, preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; in girls, insistence on wearing only stereotypical masculine clothing

(3) strong and persistent preferences for cross-sex roles in make-believe play or persistent fantasies of being the other sex

(4) intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex

(5) strong preference for playmates of the other sex

In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as a stated desire to be the other sex, frequent passing as the other sex, desire to live or be treated as the other sex, or the conviction that he or she has the typical feelings and reactions of the other sex.

B. Persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.

In children, the disturbance is manifested by any of the following: in boys, assertion that his penis or testes are disgusting or will disappear or assertion that it would be better not to have a penis, or aversion toward rough-and-tumble play and rejection of male  stereotypical toys, haves, and activities; in girls, rejection of urinating in a sitting position, assertion that she has or will grow a penis, or assertion that she does not want to grow breasts or menstruate, or marked aversion toward normative feminine clothing.

In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as preoccupation with getting rid of primary and secondary sex characteristics (e.g., request for hormones, surgery, or other procedures to physically alter sexual characteristics to simulate the other sex) or belief that he or she was born the wrong sex.

C. The disturbance is not concurrent with a physical intersex condition.

D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Code based on current age:

302.6     Gender Identity Disorder in Children

302.85   Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents or Adults

Specify if (for sexually mature individuals):

Sexually Attracted to Males

Sexually Attracted to Females

Sexually Attracted to Both

Sexually Attracted to Neither

I posted in February about how the committee that is redesigning the DSM is accepting feedback on their proposed changes. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the book used around the world by clinicians to determine what kinds of human suffering count as mental disorders, what symptoms one has to show to qualify as having one of those disorders, and what what can get covered by insurance. The content of this book will shape the lives of those who will interact with the mental health system for the next generation. Being labeled with a mental disorder is a big deal, and which one you get can mean the difference between decent and indecent treatment. Personality Disorder? You’re pretty much screwed. Very few people think they can help you and no insurance will cover you. Adjustment Disorder? PTSD? You’re in luck, most likely. We’re all very hopeful for, and will pay for, your recovery.

If you’re life has in any way been affected by anything labeled a mental disorder, I encourage you to look at the appropriate proposed changes to your future and the future of your loved ones, and write them an email about what you think. You have until April 20, 2010.

Structural, Cross-Cutting, and General Classification Issues for DSM-5
Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence
Delirium, Dementia, Amnestic, and Other Cognitive Disorders
Mental Disorders Due to a General Medical Condition Not Elsewhere Classified
Substance-Related Disorders
Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders
Mood Disorders
Anxiety Disorders
Somatoform Disorders
Factitious Disorders
Dissociative Disorders
Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders
Eating Disorders
Sleep Disorders
Impulse-Control Disorders Not Elsewhere Classified
Adjustment Disorders
Personality Disorders
Other Conditions that May Be the Focus of Clinical Attention

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is revised every decade or so, and a revision is under way right now. Up until recently, there has been criticism that the proceedings were taking place in secret. This is not unusual, as I understand it, but it is significant for many people. Mental-health clinicians, for example, have to use the diagnostic categories in the DSM to label their clients, and if the categories and descriptions listed don’t coincide with their experiences or beliefs, this can be quite difficult. It is significant for mental-health clients, too, for complementary and even more personal reasons. What will happen to your diagnosis? In? Out? Changed? These decisions have a big impact on social issues, like stigma, and economic issues, like what insurance companies will pay for.

The DSM committee is proposing, for example, to subsume the diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder into Autism Disorder. This seems to make a lot of sense, unless you or your child is benefiting from the existence of Asperger’s because of insurance company rules, state regulations, or other regulatory factors.

The content of the DSM is important to people for political reasons, too. For example, the third revision of the DSM eliminated homosexuality as a mental disorder. That was in 1973, for the DSM-III. (We’ve since had the DSM-III-R, DSM-IV, and DSM-IV-TR. They are currently working on the DSM-V.) It may be hard to believe that being gay was an official Mental Disorder, but it was. People were even lobotomized for it: Here, let me “help” you with that unnatural sexual attraction by forcing an icepick in over one of your eyes, through your skull, to twist it in your brain. The removal of homosexuality from the DSM was very controversial in its day, but no one credible is fighting for it to go back in.

That is to say, the DSM can reflect the changing mores of society, which in turn influences the way society sees mental health and illness. This process can effect the quality of a lot of our lives. And now the DSM committee has revealed the changes they are contemplating and is asking for feedback. This is from their website:

“Your input, whether you are a clinician, a researcher, an administrator, or a person/family member affected by a mental disorder, is important to us.  We thank you for taking part in this historic process and look forward to receiving your feedback.”

You almost certainly fall into one of those categories. Take part in this opportunity! Of course, our input being “important” to them does not mean they will pay attention to it, but it can’t hurt to try. The worst that can happen is that you will be better informed about your mental-health system. Here are the categories that they are considering changes in. Click on them to read the proposed changes. To submit feedback, you have to register with them, but it only takes a minute:

Structural, Cross-Cutting, and General Classification Issues for DSM-5
Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence
Delirium, Dementia, Amnestic, and Other Cognitive Disorders
Mental Disorders Due to a General Medical Condition Not Elsewhere Classified
Substance-Related Disorders
Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders
Mood Disorders
Anxiety Disorders
Somatoform Disorders
Factitious Disorders
Dissociative Disorders
Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders
Eating Disorders
Sleep Disorders
Impulse-Control Disorders Not Elsewhere Classified
Adjustment Disorders
Personality Disorders
Other Conditions that May Be the Focus of Clinical Attention