Individuals are MORE than their DSM Diagnosis.

Today I had to write a short literature reflection on the DSM and how it does not follow a completely ethical code when it comes to basic mental health diagnostics. For those who do not know what the DSM is, it is a primary tool used to diagnose mental health conditions in the United States. There has been growing concern over the fact that the diagnostic manual is black and white, not to mention the fact that it was primarily created by insurance companies so that they have a label in order to cover treatment plans. The general consensus for many professionals is that it should not be used as a primary source of information on an individual because it can increase the risk of bias, judgment and further harmful social stigmatization.

I am currently in school to achieve an MSSW (Masters of Science in Social Work) but my end goal is becoming a licensed mental health therapist. I do appreciate the human centered approach social work is giving me when it comes to working with diverse communities of individuals. I do believe that if most people were taught from a social work lense from a young age, we would have a much more positive view of one another, it would help to de-stigmatize mental illness as a whole and lead to a more helpful and positive society.

Here is the short literature I wrote:

            Taylor and Francis published an article which brings up the very important topic of how the DSM negatively impacts treatment, especially in the social-work field and how it is lacking  a basic human centered approach when applied to diagnostics and treatment plans . “The approach taken by the DSM contradicts many basic tenants of social work Important social work perspectives-systems theory emphasizing the crucial role of families, small groups and communities’; a growth and development model of human behavior; the individualization of the client; a sensitivity and commitment to multi-cultural diversity; the emphasis on client abilities and strengths; concerns about disruptive justice; and the focus on client empowerment model for intervention” ( Kutchins and Kirk, 1995).

            DSM Diagnostics are definitely something we should be aware of in the social-work field so that we do have an understanding of past treatment as well as how symptomology may effect ongoing treatment and stability, but it is important to note that it lacks the principals social work stands for. Our purpose as social workers is to meet the individual as they come and understand their diversity and personal struggle coming from a systemic view. There is an ongoing problem with the medical model of care not accurately viewing the whole client when it proceeds to provide intervention and even case management. This is important to note because the DSM was created for insurance companies and it also does not follow up to date science, nor does it take into account the personal experiences of individuals whom it presents these labels too. I believe it is important to humanize the individuals we work with to take away the power struggle and provide them with a well rounded judgment free treatment plans that meets them where they are, on both a personal, and systemic level, rather than one centered on the medical model.


Janet B.W. Williams and Robert L. Spitzer. (1995). Journal of Social Work Education. Counsel on Social Work Education. 31(2), 148-153.

I also want to mention that I do believe mental health providers, and even general care providers should sit down and talk with their clients on a human level. These are people with real feelings and emotions and human experiences. Just because someone has the label of “bipolar” or “schizophrenic” this does not mean that is the center of their universe. We must talk to the those we label as to make sure we fully understand how they feel and what their needs are, if we do not do that, we could miss extremely valuable information or worse, find ourselves judging them. It is not truly about the label. It is about quality of life, quality of care and basic support.

Humans like to be seen as human. Not a number or a label.

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