Criticisms of the DSM-5


If you are a psychology student, it is impossible that you did not hear about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). As you probably already know, the DSM is a diagnostic manual that offers standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. It is widely used by health professionals, researchers, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. For each disorder, there is a set of diagnostic criteria with specific symptoms that characterize the disorder. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and was originally published in 1952. The DSM is now in its fifth edition (DSM-5) and the DSM-5 was published in 2013.

As you might have guessed, classification of mental disorders is very important. Without a manual that guides health professionals to the same diagnostic processes, two different health professionals might come up with two different diagnoses. It would be hard to judge who is right. In this sense, the DSM-5 offers a wide range of benefits. However, there are many criticisms made about the DSM-5 and in this blog post, I wish to examine these criticisms to convey some of the benefits and limitations of the DSM-5. Because of limited space, I will only mention five different criticisms and I will provide five short answers to respond to these criticisms. All the information below is supported by the article Criticisms, Limitations, and Benefits of the DSM-5 by Timothy Thomason.

First, one might criticize that the diagnosis of mental disorders is too subjective. For example, to make a diagnosis, health professionals often rely on patients’ self-reports of their conditions. This is indeed true but some subjectivity is expected as psychopathology does not contain any biomarkers. Mental disorders comprise of conditions that are not necessarily observable or measurable. It is expected that with further research on the etiology of mental disorders, diagnosis will become more objective. Next, one might argue that the diagnosis of mental disorders is based on symptoms, not causes of the disorders. To this criticism, the answer is quite simple. This is because often of the case, causes of the disorders are unknown. In addition, knowing the cause of the disorder is not always necessary to treat the person. Furthermore, another criticism is that there is evidence of social pressure or other social factors influencing the process of writing the DSM. For example, previously, homosexuality used to be considered a mental disorder but then, it got removed from the DSM. This is partially due to the fact that the definition of “disorder” depends on social opinions. The influence that social pressure or social factors has on the manual is inevitable. On top of that, another criticism is that diagnostic labels hurt people. This is not necessarily true as some people feel relieved to learn that there is a name and treatment for their conditions. Also, there is research that shows that people with mental disorders experience stigma not because of the diagnostic label, but because of their behavior that appears bizarre to other people. Lastly, one might argue that the DSM-5 is not an improvement of the DSM-4. It is safe to conclude that this is false because the manual was re-organized to better define mental disorders, to answer to gender and cultural issues, and to introduce a dimensional approach to diagnosis.

In conclusion, I mentioned few criticisms that are present against the DSM-5. It is true that the DSM-5 is not perfect and it is possible that the APA will publish other editions to the DSM. However, the criticisms are minor and without major negative consequences. Even though the DSM-5 contains benefits and limitations, currently, it is the only diagnostic manual that is widely used. If you wish to learn about other criticisms that are present, I highly recommend you to read the article Criticisms, Limitations, and Benefits of the DSM-5 by Timothy Thomason.


Timothy Thomason. “Criticisms, Limitations, and Benefits of the DSM-5” Arizona Counselling Journal (2014) Available at:

Jimin Lew (260633990)