The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, is the standard reference source for psychological diagnosis. The DSM is an aid for psychologists and psychiatrists to determine what disorders are affecting an individual based on the symptoms that person is experiencing. The DSM is intended to be used by trained professionals in conjunction with medical accreditation and experience.
Develop Standard Criteria
The DSM lists the standardized criteria for determining the presence of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. Without a standardized and mutually agreed-upon source, different psychiatrists and psychologists might apply different standards to their diagnoses, resulting in inconsistency between clients of the mental health system and confusion about any disorders from which someone is suffering. With referral to the DSM, even if different professionals may disagree about whether a particular person is suffering from a particular disorder, there can be more agreement about exactly what constitutes the disorder.
The DSM serves as a vehicle of communication between mental health professionals. When dealing with disorders of the human mind, it is important for professionals to continue the process of learning and updating their knowledge and abilities, and this can only be done by keeping in contact with their colleagues and with the field as a whole. The DSM is in a constant state of revision and is a catalyst for communication between professionals. The DSM-V edition is in production at the time of this publication.
Facilitate Correct Diagnoses
One of the most important roles of the DSM is to help psychologists and psychiatrists correctly diagnose the conditions affecting their patients. This is done through extensive consultation with the patient, followed by perusal of the DSM within the context of the symptoms that have been observed. While there is always a certain amount of simplification involved in applying a generalized diagnosis to the complexities of an individual mind, the DSM helps professionals minimize the possibility of errors and to prescribe appropriate treatments and medications to help those who suffer from mental illness.
The educational process that is required to become a psychiatrist or a psychologist is lengthy and intense. Students within the mental health field become very familiar with the DSM and continue to use it when they enter the professional field. In addition to using it to help patients and to maintain a common intellectual discourse with their colleagues, professionals are continually learning more about their field through their interaction with the DSM.
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