According to a recent article in the New York Times, the revision to the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual currently underway will reconsider not only the personality disorders (rumor has it that Narcissistic Personality Disorder may be eliminated) but also the autistic disorders. In particular, it looks as if Asperger’s Syndrome will be eliminated as a separate diagnosis and subsumed within the more tightly focused Autism Spectrum Disorder. Read the entire article for an understanding of how the skyrocketing medical and social costs of treating autistic disorders are driving this revision, at least in part.
This change once again throws into question the validity of psychological diagnosis as a scientifically precise methodology. If Asperger’s Syndrome can be written out of the DSM by committee, one has to wonder if it was ever as distinct a disorder as many people have wanted to believe. Even though I object to the very idea of a diagnosis manual akin to the ICD-10, I’m moderately hopeful that the current revision to the DSM is a step in the right direction: the new name, at least, seems to acknowledge that there’s an entire spectrum of autistic disorders. Still, with its focus on symptoms and behaviors (rather than psychodynamic process), this new Autism Spectrum Disorder continues to reflect the kind of pseudo-scientific precision that characterizes the APA and all its efforts.
In working on my book about defense mechanisms, it has become increasingly clear to me that the problem with modern psychiatry is its renunciation of its psychodynamic roots. Whereas psychoanalytic thinking once dominated the American Psychiatric Association of 50 years ago, the continuing revision to the DSM that began in the 1970s has “re-medicalized” psychiatry — that is, made it more scientific, with identifiable diseases leading to sanctioned cures. Psychodynamic thinking has been written out of the clinical picture so that today, we talk about bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder as if each was as consistent and identifiable a medical syndrome as diabetes, but with no understanding of their underlying psychic processes. (For more on the medicalization of psychiatry, see Robert Whitaker’s excellent book, The Anatomy of an Epidemic, which I reviewed in a series of three articles, beginning with one on the chemical imbalance theory of depression.)