Pathologizing Grief–Just For Starters: The DSM-5 and My Tripartite Expression of Displeasure, Getting Started

Posted on April 7, 2012 by

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It’s a little-known fact, even to the seminar graduates, that,  before the powers that be let a mother actually give birth to her child, she and her partner have to attend a weekend seminar (and there are no exceptions here) in some hazy, nebulous part of the globe, in some time period out of normal chronology, which is promptly forgotten by the participants, where the lecturers teach to mastery all the trite but vaguely comforting phrases these parents will find themselves spouting to their children through the years, even if their other discourse is innovative, intelligent, inspirational.

And parents must–and will–pass with flying colors.

There is no other explanation in my mind, for why we turn from a discussion about Friedrich Nietezhe and nihilism with our spouses to tell our children,

“It’s no use crying over spilled milk.”

Or leave off from spouting off to our friends, yet again, on how Elizabeth Bishop was clearly a poet of restraint, fighting in her own dignified way against the confessionalists, to tell our fighting brood,

“Let bygones be bygones.”

I mean, really, where do we come up with this stuff, if we aren’t, indeed, brainwashed?

It permeates our figurative language, as we tell our kids, preparing for the day of the SATs, “It’s about as pleasant as a trip to the dentist,”

and leaves the world of simile to infiltrate our symbolic speech, as we assure the hasty, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

But overall, despite my disdain for myself when I resort to these parental truisms, I generally buy into their folksy wisdom, as I’m sure I was taught to do, in some time out of memory.

I mean–have you ever tried it? A watched pot never boils!

But just recently I got a bee in my bonnet about one of them. You know how we tell kids, “Everybody makes mistakes”? Well, fine and good–everybody does, and we’re really saying they do so because they’re careless, or haven’t thought something through, or didn’t really know what they were getting into.

But to let the bee in my first bonnet meet the bee in my second one [they always told me I was a woman of many hats], let me be clear what “everybody makes mistakes” does not say. It does not say (and pay close attention, this may be hard to distinguish):

“It’s okay for hundreds of scientists, doctors and other advocates, with experience in research, clinical care, biology, genetics, statistics, epidemiology, public health, and consumer advocacy, working together to produce the first psychiatric diagnostic manual in 13 years, whose publication will–in their own words– “mark one of the most anticipated events in the mental health field” and provide a text upon which the vast majority of mental health professionals will rely to diagnose and treat their patients accordingly, (take breath here) to botch the job.”

Can you see the difference? I know; it’s a bit subtle. But I refer to to the committee composing the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), #5, the touchstone text for the diagnosing and treatment in mental health. Putting together a cohesive and sensible new edition has become, in some areas, somewhat of a mess.

Makes you wonder if it’s a question of–you know, too many chefs spoiling the broth.

But before I publish this piece so that I can then publish the next (my thoughts are so deep and profound that they require three posts, one directly following another, to clarify the matters), I just want to be clear–this issue with the DSM-5 is not one of my making.

There’s concern throughout the mental health community about how such a big project could have gone so wrong. So if you need something to look at before you receive notice that my Part II has–at long last–arrived, see what Psychology Today has to say in “DSM5 in Distress” or peruse msnbc’s piece “Shyness as illness? Experts blast new mental health ‘bible’.”

And if you start to feel the anticipation is too much, remember:

Good things come to those who wait.