In this article, Dr. Peter Ladd, co-author of the new book, Person-Centered Diagnosis and Treatment in Mental Health: A Model for Empowering Clients, asks some important questions relating to traditional mental health diagnosis, and shares his own thoughts about where he believes it is heading in the future.
Does the Semantics found in the DSM IV Create a Problem for Clients?
The DSM IV is sophisticated in basing diagnosis in mental health on statistical probability. The Client Empowerment Model of diagnosis in mental health found in Person-Centered Diagnosis and Treatment in Mental Health: A Model for Empowering Clients, (Ladd & Churchill 2012) is sophisticated in presenting a holistic perspective. The lack of a holistic perspective found in the DSM IV may be partially attributed to the semantics found in it. For example, the DSM IV has such labels as Bi-Polar Disorder or Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Semantically, a person may incorrectly say, “I am bi-polar or I am obsessive/compulsive.”
From a strictly medical model, such semantics do not make sense. In medicine one does not say, I am cancer or I am stroke. However, with some mental disorders one can personalize them as though they were connected to one’s identity. A client empowerment model does not focus on labels but on patterns. For example, a person might say, “I have a pattern of bi-polar disorder or I have a pattern of obsessive/compulsive disorder. These statements are not connected to one’s identity. They are accurate semantic statements of a pattern they are in. Such unsophistication in DSM IV labels may lead to increasing the severity of disorders rather than reducing them. Most clients do not find meaning in statistically formulated symptoms but in understanding the semantically formulated patterns of their disorders. For example, if you asked someone, “Tell me who you are?” A person would not add up all of his or her negative symptoms and produce a label of how they see themselves. Most likely they would point out those characteristics that describe their unique way of being in this world. This means that it may be important in diagnosis in mental health to significantly separate a person’s mental disorder label from their identity.
The DSM IV is not sophisticated enough to achieve this function. A Client Empowerment Model of Diagnosis presents a client with a diagnostic pattern that specifically changes the discussion away from one’s identity to a pattern of experience that a person is going through. In practice, using a system that statistically categorizes mental disorders based on empirical probability has an explicit advantage for insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and for the mental health practitioner yet such sophistication may be detrimental to clients, if these mental disorders are not presented in a more sophisticated, holistic and collaborative manner. Perceptually, clients may confuse the mental disorder label with their identity. The question to be asked may be, “Do we have a responsibility as mental health practitioners to diagnose in a manner where diagnosis is beneficial for all involved?”
The Direction of Clinical Diagnosis in Mental Health
Mental health practitioners have a responsibility or at least a professional mandate to include tests instruments within a clinical diagnosis. Some of these instruments are; mental status exams, objective testing, personality testing, motivational interviewing, behavioral, emotional and environmental testing.
However, the most noted test instrument used by mental health practitioners has to be the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or more commonly referred to as the DSM IV (APA, 2000). This book is mostly a standardized classifications system so that all mental health professionals are speaking the same language. This manual breaks down into; Axis I – clinical mental disorders, Axis II – personality disorders, Axis III – medical conditions relating to mental disorders, Axis IV – psychosocial events and environmental concerns and Axis V a global assessment of a client’s ability to function.
Neuroscience may be on the verge of giving the DSM IV an alternative perceptual view of diagnosis with such instruments as; PET scans, MRI’s, and CT.’s and Mindfulness Research (Plante, 2011). However, such neurological research is limited to the laboratory setting without some form of phenomenological thinking. Neuroscience has stirred up a renewed interest in phenomenology or the study of experience (Siegel, 2010). In other words, human experience causes neurological changes, and neurological changes are best understood through studying human experience. Such a notion takes mental health diagnosis in a different direction than the DSM IV that adds up symptoms in order to give a diagnosis based on statistical probability.
From the consideration of a new neurological/phenomenological perspective brings rise to this question, “Are the only accurate mental disorder diagnoses made by adding up symptoms from the DSM IV, in order to render a diagnosis?” At this point, it is only fair to mention that such a question is not completely answerable, yet it does give possible direction to the future of diagnosis in mental health.
However, such a question does reflect the sentiments of those mental health practitioners and neuroscientists that are finding a need for each other’s information. Furthermore, it may raise questions as to the direction of psychological diagnosis from a strictly medical model, statistical probability perspective. Should psychological diagnosis rely only on a statistical probability of symptoms, leading to a diagnosis? Or, should we rely on neuroscience research and combine it with phenomenological experience in developing a more bio/psycho/social/spiritual (Holistic and Person-Centered) model of diagnosis? This may be the moment to consider a different model of diagnosis with the ultimate release of the DSM V, and the book, Person-Centered Diagnosis and Treatment in Mental Health: A Model for Empowering Clients is one attempt at presenting a different model.
Peter D. Ladd
American Psychiatric Association. (2000) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders (4th ed.). Washington DC: Author (Original work published 1952).
Ladd, P. & Churchill, A. (2012) Person-Centered diagnosis and treatment: A model for empowering clients. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Plante, T.G. (2011). Contemporary clinical psychology (3rd ed.). Hobaken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Siegel, D.J. (2010) The Mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural integration. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.