March 10, 2011

Psychiatrists ramp up opposition to forensic misuse of DSM

"Pedohebephilia" would make bad situation worse, they warn  

As you will recall, at a recent debate members of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) were virtually unanimous in giving the thumbs-down to three controversial sexual disorders being proposed for the fifth edition of psychiatry’s diagnostic manual.

Piggy-backing on that sentiment, the Academy's official journal has just published two additional calls for caution. 

DSM's forensic influence cannot be ignored

Ralph Slovenko, an eminent professor of law and psychiatry at Wayne State University Law School, leads off with an editorial that counters a key claim of the proponents of diagnostic expansion. The oft-repeated claim is that the legal implications of a diagnosis are irrelevant, and should not be considered.

Rebutting this head-in-the-sand mentality, Slovenko gives a comprehensive overview of the DSM's impact in myriad areas of the law, from parental termination to disability determinations. As evidence of the DSM's vast influence, he cites language written into the statutes in 16 states mandating its use for various purposes.

As his overview makes clear, courts and legislatures across the United States have ignored the fine print in the introduction to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, stating that use of the manual for forensic purposes risks misunderstanding and misuse.

A case in point: Use of a made-up category, "Paraphilia Not Otherwise – Hebephilia," as justification for preventive detention of men who have served prisont time for sexual relations with adolescent.

No basis for fictional "hebephilia" disorder

Next, two psychiatrists who were influential in developing the current edition of the DSM launch a full-on assault on the use of the bogus diagnosis "hebephilia" in sexual predator civil commitment proceedings.

Michael First, editor and co-chair of the DSM-IV-TR, and Allen Frances, chair of the DSM-IV Task Force, clarify the intention of diagnosing paraphilias, or sexual deviances, and why diagnosing offenders against adolescents with "hebephilia" (a diagnosis that does not exist in any formal diagnostic system) is a flagrant abuse of psychiatric nomenclature. This is not the first time these authors have tried to set the record straight, but their current analysis is especially detailed and unequivocal.
The alleged diagnosis paraphilia not otherwise specified, hebephilia, arose, not out of psychiatry, but rather to meet a perceived need in the correctional system. This solution represents a misuse of the diagnostic system and of psychiatry. That a large number of forensic mental health workers have been mistrained to regard paraphilia NOS as a valid diagnostic category in SVP proceedings should not be construed as proper representation of the views of the entire mental health field. Similarly, the very preliminary studies conducted by a few research groups should not be construed to indicate that hebephilia has any solid scientific support. Hebephilia is not an accepted mental disorder that can be reliably diagnosed and should not be treated as such in SVP proceedings.
First and Frances issue a strong call against adding the pretextual diagnosis of "pedohebephilia" to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
Among several radical proposals made by the DSM-5 Sexual Disorders Workgroup is the backdoor introduction of the hebephilia diagnosis into the DSM-5 by expanding the existing well-accepted pedophilia category to include sexual arousal to pubescent individuals and renaming the broadened construct pedohebephilic disorder. There is no apparent need or compelling rationale to include hebephilia in DSM-5 beyond the research interests of a few scientists and the questionable use of hebephilia in SVP proceedings.
Despite opposition from forensic psychiatry, no doubt the wheels will grind on. After all, as legal scholar Charles Patrick Ewing describes in Justice Perverted, preventive detention has taken on a life of its own, becoming a lucrative and self-perpetuating industry. More on psychology's role in that very soon….

Related resources:

On my website, I have created a page of resources on the hebephilia controversy. But if you really want to immerse yourself in these diagnostic controversies, the place to visit is the "DSM-5 Paraphilias Controversy." On one page, blogger Andrew Hinderliter has amassed an impressive array of literature on the disputed paraphilias, including not only hebephilia, hypersexuality, and sexual sadism but also related hot-button topics such as transvestic fetishism.

My comprehensive historical review of hebephilia is now available online. Or, for a shorter version, there's always my oldie but goodie blog post, from Halloween of 2007: "Invasion of the hebephile hunters: Or, the story of how an archaic word got a new lease on life."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is positive in that a growing contingent of prominent experts in the fields of both psychiatry and law are speaking out. I wonder, though, if this will be enough to stifle the issue altogether. Chances are that more voices are yet to come . . .

By the way, I, too, am preparing a series of blog articles on this and related subjects for the near-future. I was hoping to interview you more in-depth, perhaps through email, if possible. Would you have time to address my points? I thought I would ask first, as I respect your time and personal space.

Thank you, Karen.