Psychiatric Times
By Irwin Feinberg, MD
May27, 2010
Dr Feinberg is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California at Davis

A vital consideration we learn in medicine is that continuing life support for a moribund patient past a certain point is harmful to the lives of all concerned. We have reached that point with DSM5. Dr Allen Frances has outlined compelling clinical arguments against many of the new disorders DSM5 proposes and he has shown how their adoption could have far-reaching, unintended, and damaging consequences for the patients we have pledged not to harm, and for society generally.

I write from the vantage point of 50 years of psychobiological research. Most of it is in the field of sleep neuroscience. However, as often happens in science, one thing leads to another and my observations enabled me to propose that the human brain undergoes a profound reorganization during adolescence driven by synaptic pruning and that some cases of schizophrenia might be caused by errors in this process.1 My association at NIMH with Edward V. Evarts, one of the great neurophysiologists of the last half century, stimulated me to propose that the hallucinations of schizophrenia result from a failure of feed-forward mechanisms that distinguish self-initiated neural activity from that produced by external stimulation, resulting in auditory hallucinations and other first-rank symptoms.

It is difficult and time-consuming to produce reliable new knowledge; it cannot be accomplished by committee fiat, as Drs Kupfer, Schatzberg and Regier seem to be believe. Dr Frances has mentioned the damage to psychiatric research that several new, ill-conceived categories in DSM5 could inflict. He also pointed out that changing nomenclature and diagnostic standards in the absence of compelling scientific justification will severely damage psychiatric research as well as clinical practice. Many of these changes would make it impossible to compare decades of epidemiological results with new findings. Moreover, the sloppy thinking and language in the proposed revision will be apparent to any educated layman. The “field trials” and timetables proposed for new categories are laughable to any statistically trained psychologist. The inevitable public exposure of the gross defects in DSM5 will bring our entire field into disrepute and diminish public support for the research we need.

There have been no research advances that demand new diagnoses and syndromes. Despite many intriguing findings, no psychiatric disease can be diagnosed by a biological or psychological test. If the DSM5 committee believes that new genetic or imaging findings justify a revised nomenclature, they should indicate which ones. Instead of creating dangerous new categories, let us discontinue DSM5 development and use its funding to make strong bridges between DSM-IV and ICD 11. We should also work to diminish or eliminate the huge differences between the US and the UK in the incidence of diagnoses like ADHD and pediatric bipolar disorders. These differences make it impossible to compare cross-national biological research on the same diagnostic categories, even in countries with similar cultures and medical traditions.

The proposed DSM5 would be a giant step backwards for psychiatry. American psychiatrists should petition the APA to drop this ill-conceived and badly executed project.