The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is a handbook that health care professionals from around the world reference for the diagnostic criteria of different disorders. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is recognized by the broad scientific community.

The DSM-5 provides diagnostic criteria for the identification of symptoms, personality traits, cognitive functions, physical signs, and behaviours of different disorders.

1. The DSM’s primary purpose is to be a manual used by trained clinicians.
     It must be feasible for these professionals to use routinely in their clinical

2. Any revisions made to the DSM must be guided by literature reviews
conducted by experts in the field on the current research of diagnostic
best practices.

3. Revisions should reflect previous editions of the DSM.

4. There should be no set amount of change required between the revisions of the DSM.

The DSM provides trained clinicians with a set of guidelines for making a reliable diagnosis.  The diagnostic criteria are not meant to be used as a checklist for professionals. A detailed history of the individual must include a summary of their social, psychological and biological factors needs to be considered before making a diagnosis.  The clinician can then use their training to decide if the signs and symptoms exceed the normal range and warrant a diagnosis. A proper diagnosis is vital for guiding the suggested treatment options and recommendations made to the individual with the condition.

In 1844, the first predecessor to the DSM was published so that medical professionals could have a common language to use when discussing institutionalized mental patients.  It was used in censuses to gather information about the frequency of different mental illnesses in the United States.

In 1917, a joint effort between the National Commission on Mental Hygiene and the American Medico-Psychological Association created a plan to gather information across mental hospitals in the United States by the Bureau of the Census.

In 1921 the American Medico-Psychological Association became the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They teamed up with the New York Academy of Medicine to develop the first edition of the American Medical Association’s Standard Classified Nomenclature of Disease to assist in the diagnosis of individuals with psychiatric and neurological disorders.

After World War II, there was interest in the classification of outpatient presentations found in veterans.  Around the same time, the World Health Organization published the sixth edition of the International Classification of Diseases. It included a section for mental disorders for the first time.

In 1952, the first edition for the DSM was published. In the first edition, it contained a description of diagnostic categories along with a glossary of their descriptions.

The DSM is regularly revised to ensure its contents stay current with the science of mental disorders.  Since its initial publication, there have been several advances in cognitive neuroscience, brain imaging technology, epidemiology and genetics.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.


American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.) DSM History. Retrieved from

Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

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