Basic Psychiatric Terms and Concepts

AuthorHy Bloom, Richard D Schneider
chapter one
Basic Psychiatric Terms and Concepts
The purpose of th is chapter is to introduce basic terms and concepts with-
in the discipline of psychiatr y as they arise in t he course of dealing with
mentally disordered accused. The list of def‌i nitions for medical and mental
disorders, symptoms, treatments, psychological tests, and other investiga-
tive procedures and laboratory tests contained in this c hapter is far from ex-
haustive; it covers the terms legal practitioners are most like ly to encounter
when working in this f‌ield.
Analogous to the case with a lmost all medical d isorders, classif‌ication of
psychiatric conditions and sett ing out the clinica l criteria that def‌ine t he
condition is an evolving process. Determini ng whether a proposed condition
has suff‌iciently def‌in able features to achieve a threshold for consideration
as a syndrome or diagnosis generally results f rom the collection, synthesis,
and critical appraisal of subst antial amounts of information derived from re-
views of published literature, analyses and re- analyses of collected data, and
f‌ield trials. Work groups that collect this d ata ultimately report to a task force
which submits its recommendations for approval to the American Psychiat-
ric Association’s Committee on Psychiatric Diag nosis and Assessment.
What constitutes a mental disorder is never f‌ixed and immutable, and
in fact, can chan ge with the course of time to ref‌lect not only new sc ience
in the f‌ield, but also changes in t he social landscape. Homosexua lity is
the most frequently cited example. It was considered a psychiatric d isorder
over the tenure of an earlier edition of the Diag nostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders1 ( DSM), but was delisted in 1973 following an Amer-
ican Psychiatric Assoc iation plebiscite on the subject, inspired in part by a
change in our (then incomplete) understanding of huma n sexuality, and by
several years of demonstrations by gay activists at an nual meetings of the
America n Psychiatric A ssociation.
The Diagnosti c and Statistical Manual of Mental D isorders has gone through
seven revisions some minor and some major since t he f‌irst edition was
published in 1952 .2 DSM I and DSM II, both of which predate an ex plosion of
research into the biological basis of psychiatr ic conditions, were very psycho-
dynamic in their approach. T he etiology (or origin) of psychiatric d isorders
was thought more likely to have its roots in upbringing a nd environmental
events than in neurochemic al dysfunction. Cr uder distinctions, for example,
between psychosis and neurosis dominated t hese earlier editions of the DSM,
although, again, bot h were seen as problems emanating from the person’s
upbringing and psychology, and not as disturba nces based in their biology.
Psychoses represented breaks with reality frequent ly associated with hallucin-
ations and delusions, whereas neuroses were thought of as milder mental dis-
orders, typically char acterized by depression and anxiet y, which at the most,
involved minor distortions of real ity.
In the third edition of the DSM,3 the psychodynam ic model was sup-
planted by the biopsychosocial model. Seven years later, DSM III-R4 revised
a number of the criteria for mental disorders listed in DSM III.
DSM IV-TR is the acronym for the Diagnostic and Stat istical Manual of
Mental Disorders, 4t h edition , Text Revis ion.5 It replaced DSM IV,6 to which
it was fundamentally sim ilar.
DSM IV-TR’s mission statement, as it were, was to:
foster uniformity and cla rity in its diagnostic approach to a patient;
1 American Psyc hiatric Association , Diagnostic and S tatistical Manual of Me ntal Disorders,
2d ed (Washington , DC: American Psychiat ric Association, 1968) [DSM II].
2 American Psychiatr ic Association, Diagn ostic and Statisti cal Manual of Mental Diso rders
(Washington, DC : American Psychiatr ic Association, 1952) [DSM I].
3 American Psych iatric Association, Di agnostic and Sta tistical Manual of Ment al Disorders,
3d ed (Washington, D C: American Psychiat ric Association, 1980) [DSM III].
4 American Psych iatric Association, Di agnostic and Stat istical Manual of Ment al Disorders,
3d ed, revised ( Washington, DC: America n Psychiatric Associat ion, 1987) [DSM III-R].
5 American Psych iatric Association, Di agnostic and Sta tistical Manual of Ment al Disorders,
4th ed, text rev ision (Washington, DC: Ame rican Psychiatric A ssociation, 2000) [DSM
IV-T R].
6 American Psyc hiatric Association , Diagnostic and S tatistical Manual of Me ntal Disorders,
4th ed (Washing ton, DC: American Psychi atric Association, 1994) [DSM IV ].
Chapter One: Basic Psychiatric Terms and Concepts 7
create a common language and operational cr iteria to ensure inter-
rater consistency amongst clinicians;
provide to the extent possible, research-based inclusion criter ia for
the var ious psychiatric conditions;
serve as an educational tool, providing desc riptive narratives that pre-
cede the diagnostic cr iteria for any condition as well as reviewi ng the
condition, its course, prevalence, associated features, familial pat tern,
and diffe rential diagnosis; a nd
provide a multiaxial codi ng system that describes t he interrelation-
ships amongst conditions (mental, characterological and physical) th at
have impacted the individual’s current and longitud inal funct ioning
(Axis I, II & III, respectively); considers current stressors th at have im-
plications for diagnosis, treatment and prognosis (Axis I V); and allows
for the rating of the individual’s current level of fu nctioning (Axis V, or
Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF)).
The multiaxi al diagnostic scheme t hat was commonplace in psychiatric
reports and which court s had become familiar with wa s, over time, elim-
inated7 with the int roduction of DSM-5.8 T he change was in par t prompted
by increased research and clinica l attention into personality disorders and a
deeper understanding t hat the dividin g line between personal ity pathology
and some major mental disorders is more f‌luid than rigid.
The American Psych iatric Association (APA) Committees cha rged with
revising the DSM concluded, based on a series of studies, t hat DSM IV-TR’s
diagnostic categories and cr iteria were too narrow and failed to ref‌lect t he
reality of important links bet ween clusters of disorders.
In this regard, research demonstrated two t ypes of clusters of disorders:
the int ernaliz ing cluster or group refers to patients who exp erience promin-
ent anxiety, depression, and somatic symptoms. The ext ernalizing g roup in-
cludes disorders that feature prominent impulsivity, substance abuse, and
disruptive conduct. The cluster ing better ex plains comorbidity of disorders
within the cluster ; the disorders within the i nternalizing and e xternalizi ng
groups have consequently been strategically located adjacent to each other
in DSM- 5.9
7 Noth ing, however, prevents clinic ians who are comfortable conveying t heir diagnostic
impressions in the mult iaxial format from continu ing to use it.
8 America n Psychiatric Associ ation, Diagnosti c and Statistical Manu al of Mental Disorders,
5th ed (Washing ton DC: American Psych iatric Association, 2013) [DSM- 5].
9 DSM-5, ibid at 13.

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