Archive for June, 2013

Though Sigmund Freud was a trained neurologist, he never liked the idea of other doctors practising psychoanalysis. In a paper written in 1927, he explained that a medical degree was a disadvantage to the aspiring analyst because it would leave his head full of ideas “of which he can never make use”. There was even a “danger of its diverting his interest and his whole mode of thought from the understanding of psychical phenomena”, which ought instead to be informed by “psychology, the social sciences, the history of civilisation and sociology”. Psychoanalysis was not – not on Freud’s watch – to be “swallowed by medicine”.
It is lucky he didn’t see what happened next. Today the most widely accepted method for understanding “psychical phenomena” is one practised by doctors and dependent on concepts derived from the study of physical disease. Pre-eminent in the field is a medical institution, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), whose latest taxonomy of human suffering is published this month.

Just two weeks before DSM-5 is due to appear, the National Institute of Mental Health, the world’s largest funding agency for research into mental health, has indicated that it is withdrawing support for the manual.

In a humiliating blow to the American Psychiatric Association, Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the NIMH, made clear the agency would no longer fund research projects that rely exclusively on DSM criteria. Henceforth, the NIMH, which had thrown its weight and funding behind earlier editions of the manual, would be “re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” “The weakness” of the manual, he explained in a sharply worded statement, “is its lack of validity.” “Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure.”