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Open AccessConcept Paper

The Evolution of the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders

Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System, 4500 S. Lancaster Road, Dallas, TX 75216, USA
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, TX 75390, USA
Metrocare Services, 1380 Riverbend Dr., Dallas, TX 75247, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: John Coverdale
Behav. Sci. 2016, 6(1), 5;
Received: 29 September 2015 / Revised: 4 January 2016 / Accepted: 13 January 2016 / Published: 18 January 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Psychiatric Diagnosis Past, Present and Future)
PDF [185 KB, uploaded 21 January 2016]


This article traces the history of classification systems for mental illness and then reviews the history of the American diagnostic system for mental disorders. The steps leading up to each publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) are described including leaders, timelines, pre-publication meetings, and field trials. Important changes in the purpose of the manuals are described with a focus on events leading to the manual’s third edition (DSM-III), which represented a paradigm shift in how we think about, and use, the classification system for mental illness. For the first time, DSM-III emphasized empirically-based, atheoretical and agnostic diagnostic criteria. New criticisms of the DSM-III and subsequent editions have arisen with a call for a new paradigm shift to replace diagnostic categories with continuous dimensional systems of classification, returning to etiologically-based definitions and incorporating findings from neurobiological science into systems of diagnosis. In the foreseeable future, however, psychiatric diagnosis must continue to be accomplished by taking a history and assessing the currently established criteria. This is necessary for communication about diseases and education of clinicians and scientists in medical fields, as well as advancement of research needed to further advance the diagnostic criteria of psychiatry. View Full-Text
Keywords: DSM; psychiatric diagnosis; diagnostic classification; nosology; history of diagnosis DSM; psychiatric diagnosis; diagnostic classification; nosology; history of diagnosis
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Surís, A.; Holliday, R.; North, C.S. The Evolution of the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders. Behav. Sci. 2016, 6, 5.

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