In the last installment, we found out that the APA is trying to thread a camel through the eye of a needle. In their own view, they have to revise the DSM. To do this, they have to address the reification problem–i.e., that many of us, civilians and clinicians alike, have taken the DSM too seriously and treated the disorders it lists as actual diseases rather than fictive placeholders. To address it, they have to admit that it is a problem, and that they don’t have a solution. They have to fix the plane while it is airborne, but they don’t have the tools or the knowhow to do so, and the more it becomes clear that the plane is in trouble, and the more the mechanics are swearing and banging belowdecks, the more likely it is that the passengers will find out and start asking for a quick landing and a voucher on another airline.
So it is very important to try to keep the passengers in the dark as long as possible. Or, to put it another way, the APA has a product to protect, and the best way to do that, from a corporation’s point of view, is to control the narrative, as the pundits say, about the DSM.
Now, even before the recent events, which I’ll get to in a second, I knew this, because last year I wrote an article about the DSM revision for Wired about the argument between Allen Frances and Michael First, the major players in the DSM-IV revision, and Darrel Regier and David Kupfer, their counterparts on DSM-5. The article was no great shakes, just your usual lunchbucket magazine piece, fair and balanced and bland and forgettable as a soy hot dog with French’s mustard on it. I think Frances came out a little better, but that’s because I think he’s closer to the truth of the matter, and, as one of his colleagues has reminded me about a million times, he’s retired, so he can afford to speak truth to power. And the APA sounded at least reasonable in its willingness to acknowledge that the DSM is more provisional than it is generally made out to be.
Anyway, the forgettable magazine piece is in the process of becoming a book which will probably also be forgettable. And so I went back to my transcripts of conversations with the APA/DSM folks and of course found out all the questions I’d failed to ask and the points I’d failed to get clarified. So I emailed the APA pr apparatchicks and asked them to enlighten me. When exactly did the APA stop taking money from the drug companies for their educational programs, and how exactly was the embargo worded? And did I understand Regier correctly about a highly technical point that I won’t bore you with.
Here’s what I got back for a response.
We have received several requests from you for access to APA experts and positions on issues related to the DSM for the book you’re writing. I wanted you to know that we will not be working with you on this project. Last year we gave you free access to several of our officers and DSM experts for the article you wrote for Wired. In spite of the fact that we went to considerable lengths to work with you, the article you produced was deeply negative and biased toward the APA. Because of this track record, we are not interested in working with you further as we have no reason to expect that we would be treated any more fairly in your book than we were in the Wired article.
Now, why the APA would want to hand me such first-rate evidence of its own paranoia–and spare me having to listen to their talking points, not to mention preemptively decline to have a crack at responding to my book– is beyond me. It’s as incomprehensible as the letter itself, or at least the part where they complain that I was “biased toward” them. But I gather they think that they will make it harder for me to write my book, that maybe if they don’t cooperate I won’t do it. It is in any event evidence of an awfully thin skin, and of a bunker mentality. More disturbingly, it is evidence that they don’t really take their public trust too seriously. Especially when you contrast this to the National institutes of Mental Health, and its director Tom Insel, of whose work I’ve been much more directly critical, and who took the time to read it, and who still bent over backwards to get me an hour of face time that was cordial and fascinating. It’s enough to make you a fan of the government.
So to the recent events. Suzy Chapman is a patient advocate from the UK. Her website was an excellent compendium of information, archival material, reports, and, yes, criticism of the DSM-5. I have been using it in my research and admiring her tenacity and her fairmindedness. She has opinions but they are way in the background and neither shrill nor strident.
Chapman called her website DSM-5 and ICD Watch: Monitoring the Development of DSM-5, ICD-11 and ICD-10-CM. (The ICD’s are diagnostic systems run by the World Health Organization, and they are also under revision), and her subdomain name was http://dsm5watch.wordpress.com
She also put in a disclaimer, made it clear that she had nothing to do with APA, that she wasn’t dispensing medical, legal, or technical advice. But that didn’t stop the APA from going after her. Not long after they got their DSM-5 trademark approved, and right before Christmas, they sent her this nice holiday card, which she’s kindly allowed me to post here, with her redactions.
Dear Ms. Chapman:
It has come to our attention that the website http://dsm5watch.wordpress.com/ is infringing upon the American Psychiatric Association’s trademark DSM 5 (serial number 85161695) and is in violation of federal law by using it as a domain name.
Chapman, not in a position to fight, complied almost immediately. Her website is now available at
where you can also read about this kerfuffle in more detail.
Why the APA would make themselves into a Goliath is not clear to me. The DSM offers Paranoid Personality Disorder, but this episode makes me wish Frances hadn’t shied away from his proposal for a Self-Defeating Personality Disorder. Because it is not clear to me how they win this one. Not that I really care, at least not about the APA’s fortunes, but are they trying to prove Frances right about his recent, somewhat incendiary, claim that the APA no longer deserves the DSM franchise?
I did ask one of the APA’s trustees about this. He wrote: