Thursday, March 25, 2010

"DSM-5 and sexual disorders: Just say no"

Psychology urged to oppose psychiatric monopoly

When one introduces new chickens into an existing flock, the flock establishes a pecking order. The older birds peck the new ones into submission. With lower status, the new birds feel -- to anthropomorphise a bit -- inferior.

That's what happened when the upstart field of psychology pushed its way into the bastions of psychiatry. Psychiatrists bristled at the intrusion. Psychologists of necessity submitted to psychiatric authority. Now, years later, psychologists vastly outnumber higher paid psychiatrists in many mental health niches, but as a profession we still have an inferiority complex. Thus, we let a single psychiatric association in the United States dictate how mental functioning and impairment are conceptualized.

As the chorus of critical voices over the American Psychiatric Association's poorly drawn draft DSM-5 manual grows ever louder, some are urging psychology to issue a formal opposition paper. For example, Stephen Diamond, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Los Angeles, writes in Psychology Today that our profession's apathy "is a big part of the problem":
While clinical psychology has to some extent leaped onto this same biological bandwagon driven by contemporary psychiatry, seeking prescription privileges, some psychologists and other non-medical mental health professionals have practically written off the value and importance of psychodiagnosis today -- in part precisely due to its inherent medicalization, biological bias, dehumanizing labeling, and notorious inaccuracy…. [I]t is time for the leadership of the American Psychological Association to take a far more active and public role in the revision and direction of the DSM-5…. What, if anything, [is] the American Psychological Association is doing about DSM-V? Or about the hypermedicalization of psychology?
Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who chaired the DSM-IV task force, has become one of the most vocal critics of the manual's proposals. He too is calling on organized psychology to step up before it is too late. Taking his campaign directly to psychology and the general public, he hosts a "DSM5 in distress" column in the popular magazine Psychology Today that shines a spotlight by turn on various problematic aspects of the draft manual. In his recent call for an organized response from psychology, he writes that:
the American Psychiatric Association (APA) came to hold the DSM franchise only by historical accident…. Now that the DSMs have attained such importance, there have been repeated questions about the appropriateness of its continued sponsorship by more than just one professional organization…. The numerous problems that have bedeviled the development of DSM5 again raise the question whether the American Psychiatric Association should be sole steward of an official diagnostic system that impacts on all mental health disciplines…. Individual psychologists and the professional associations within psychology can play an important role in pointing the way forward for DSM5 and in protecting it from costly mistakes.
Perilous forensic consequences

Frances is increasingly focusing on the monumental potential for negative and unintended consequences in the forensic realm of the proposed changes:
The most obviously detrimental suggestions are in the paraphilia section, where the proposed change to the definition of paraphilia and the likely suggestion to introduce a new diagnosis of "paraphilic coercive rapism" will greatly compound the significant mischief already initiated by a seemingly trivial change in DSM-IV. More generally, even small changes in wording can result in large forensic confusion once parsed by lawyers in their peculiarly rigorous and tendentious fashion. The wording of every suggested option in DSM5 needs careful review by forensic experts.
"DSM-5 sexual disorders make no sense"

In a more recent column, Frances specifically targets the Big 3 sexual disorders that I have extensively blogged about. Of all of the DSM-5 work groups, he writes:
the Sexual Disorders Work Group has strayed furthest off the reservation. It has made a series of radical and dangerous suggestions that need to be dropped.... Each of the Work Group's suggestions is based on the thinnest of research support-usually a handful of studies often done by members of the committee making the suggestion. None has been subjected to, or could possibly survive, anything resembling a serious risk/benefit or forensic analysis.
As he points out, there are few researchers and little good research on sexuality. Consensus on the bounds of "normalcy" does not exist, and cultural bias plays a major role in what is defined as pathological (a point cogently made by Richard Green in his critique of the proposed hebephilia diagnosis). Especially important for my readers, "decisions regarding the diagnosis of sexual disorders can have profound and unanticipated forensic ... implications."

Regarding the three paraphilia proposals that will have the most impact in civil commitment proceedings in the United States, Frances had the following to say:

"Paraphilic Coercive Disorder"
This proposal was explicitly rejected for DSM IIIR and was given no serious consideration for DSM IV. The problem is the impossibility of reliably distinguishing between the small group of hypothesized "paraphilic" rapists (who would be given a mental disorder diagnosis) and the much larger group of rapists who are simple criminals.

The distinction has taken on huge significance because [of] SVP statutes mandating indefinite (usually in practice lifelong) inpatient civil psychiatric commitment for individuals who have (1) completed their prison sentence for a sexually violent crime, (2) have a diagnosed mental disorder, and (3) are deemed likely to repeat.... Although the SVP statutes have twice passed Supreme Court tests, they rest on questionable constitutional grounds and may sometimes result in a misuse of psychiatry.

Most disturbingly, an ad hoc and idiosyncratic suggested diagnosis -- Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified -- has become a frequent justification for the psychiatric commitment of rapists who are really no more than simple criminals. Raising this diagnosis to official status would greatly compound this misuse of civil psychiatric commitment.
"Hypersexuality Disorder"
This is the strangest of constructs.... The fundamental problem with "hypersexuality" is that it represents a half baked, poorly conceptualized medicalization of the expected variability in sexual behavior.... The authors are trying to provide a diagnosis for the small group whose sexual behaviors are compulsive -- but their label would quickly expand to provide a psychiatric excuse for the very large group whose misbehaviors are pleasure driven, recreational, and impulsive. The offloading of personal responsibility in this way has already captured the public and media fancy and would spread like wildfire. Making an official mental disorder category of "hypersexuality" would also have serious unintended forensic consequences inthe evaluations of sexually violent predators (SVP).
This new category would extend the traditional definition of Pedophilia ... to include pubescent teenagers. Clearly, sex with underage teenagers is reprehensible and deserves appropriate punishment under the penal code. It is, however, anything but clear when (and if) sexual behaviors with teenagers should qualify as a mental disorder. This diagnosis would be subject to the same misuses in SVP cases as has been described above.
With such widespread and vigorous opposition, it's hard to imagine these nutty proposals slipping into the DSM-5. But, stranger things have happened in the field of psychiatry.

Related article:

DSM-5 and "Psychosis Risk Syndrome": Not Ready For Prime Time
Dr. Frances' latest piece, in Psychiatric Times, is on Psychosis Risk Syndrome, one of the scariest diagnostic proposals. If adopted, it would likely lead to a wave of false-positive errors in which teenagers are wrongly identified as future schizophrenics and placed on dangerous antipsychotic medications.
Hat tips: Ken Pope, Andrew H.
Graphics credit: Raul Crimson (Creative Commons license 2.0)

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