DOES AMERICAN PSYCHIATRY MATTER?
DOES AMERICAN PSYCHIATRY MATTER?
The blogmeister of 1boringoldman.com has done it again. A semi-retired psychiatrist in rural Georgia, he has done more than anyone to document the follies and the ethical challenges of contemporary American psychiatry. His site is required reading for all who care about behavioral health issues.
In his latest posting he compared the domain of American psychiatry to Yugoslavia. Cast Melvin Sabshin as Marshal Tito. Sabshin was the medical director of the American Psychiatric Association in the late 1970s, the period leading up to DSM-III. Tito and Sabshin each strong-armed a confederation of sorts but failed to deal with the conflicts beneath the surface. Both leaders were faced with the prospect of their domains disintegrating – Tito’s at the hands of Moscow and Sabshin’s at the hands of insurance companies. Both persuaded wary stakeholders to sign on to a compromise, for want of anything better and fearing a worse outcome.
The domain of psychiatry hasn’t yet reached the stage of ethnic cleansing and genocide that we saw in Yugoslavia after Tito’s death, but it is well on the way. One only has to look at the vicious response of the American Psychiatric Association leaders to Allen Frances and other critics of DSM-5. The APA president in 2009, Alan Schatzberg from Stanford, went out of his way to smear Dr. Frances and Robert Spitzer, the architects of DSM-IV and DSM-III because he had no credible scientific response to their criticisms of the directions DSM-5 is taking. He was joined in this low act by David Kupfer and Darrel Regier, who are directing the DSM-5 effort. Where is the comity, Comrades? Where are the shared values? Why is the APA holed up in a bunker?
Then we have the unsavory sight of the APA lawyers threatening a blogfrauchen in the U.K. with a SLAPP lawsuit for alleged infringement on the APA’s intellectual property – as though the APA owns psychiatric classification! Talk about chutzpah. So now the confederation Sabshin cobbled together is breaking up and the stakeholders are starting to go their separate ways – psychologists, counselors, social workers, patient advocacy groups, even many psychiatrists. Christopher Lane in Psychology Today has said American psychiatry is facing “Civil War” over its diagnostic manual. Even an international psychiatric journal like British Journal of Psychiatry is distancing itself from DSM-5 and there is talk of abandoning DSM-5 for the next ICD classification.
Why is American psychiatry self destructing? Because the grand bargain forged in 1980 with DSM-III was a sham from the get-go and the promised benefits of diagnostic reliability have not materialized. They knew all along that reliability was a poor substitute for validity, but they settled for half a loaf. That compromise led us into the epistemologic quagmire of today, where there is no solid ground for clinical decisions or clinical research progress or drug development. A stunning absence from the DSMs to date is any statement about treatment. That compromise also led us to diagnostic inflation, which Pharma embraced. Pharma quickly filled the vacuum with experimercials that pretended to be real clinical science, and in the process diverted precious clinical research infrastructure away from genuinely important questions. Just look at the clinical trials er, experimercials, mill operating out of Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard University.
What lies ahead? Stakeholders are going to vote with their feet. DSM-5 is likely to be a footnote in the history of psychiatric classification. The APA will become even less relevant than it is today, much like the American Medical Association, which now commands the loyalty of maybe 30% of U.S. physicians. Mel Sabshin will turn in his grave, the APA will lose revenue, ICD-11 will become the dominant classification of psychiatric disorders, and the quagmire will continue until a new synthesis arises from the ashes. If Yugoslavia is any kind of model, don’t hold your breath.