insurance companies


When my auto insurance company found out that I now have a masters degree, they said they are now taking level of education into account when calculating risk. The result: a three-dollar discount. Thanks, Progressive!

Now if only everyone would start calling me “Master Nathen.” That would be the icing on the cake.

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According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), there is a mental disorder that is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence called Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It afflicts somewhere between 2-16% of people, more boys than girls before puberty, but equal numbers of boys and girls after puberty. Family therapists are not into giving medical-model diagnoses in general, but in many cases, a DSM diagnosis is the only way for a family to get their insurance companies to pay for them to get help. In one of my internship sites, for example, I will need to provide a DSM diagnosis after the first session with a family in order to get the clinic paid for our work. As I understand it, this is a common diagnosis for kids who are giving their parents and teachers a hard time.

Note that the word “often” is used to mean something like “more than usual,” so whichever kids who are most like this will qualify for this Disorder, as long as someone important believes that their behavior is significantly impairing their social or academic functioning. Note also that these symptoms could be occurring in just one setting (say, just at school) and the kid will still qualify for ODD, unlike the symptoms for ADHD, which have to occur in at least two settings to qualify for the diagnosis.

Outside of family therapy, ODD is very commonly treated with Ritalin for “comorbid” ADHD. Kids diagnosed with ODD are also fairly commonly given antidepressant and/or antipsychotic medication, on the guess that they have an underlying Mood Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, though there is little to no research on these medications for children, especially in combination.

The following is word-for-word from the DSM-IV-TR, page 102:

Diagnosis criteria for 313.81 Oppositional Defiant Disorder

A. A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:

(1) often loses temper

(2) often argues with adults

(3) often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules

(4) often deliberately annoys people

(5) often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior

(6) is often touchy or easily annoyed by others

(7) is often angry or resentful

(8) is often spiteful or vindictive

Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.

B. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

C. The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a Psychotic or Mood Disorder.

D. Criteria are not met for Conduct Disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

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.

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