What Is The DSM-V And What Can We Learn From It?

Updated April 9, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team

If you are familiar with mental health at all, you’ve probably heard of the DSM-V. Its official title is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, and it is the book therapists use to diagnose mental health conditions for millions of people in the United States (and much of the world) annually. But how did the DSM come to be? How has the DSM changed from one edition to the next? How dependable is the DSM? Let’s explore all of these questions and more as we delve into the history and use of the DSM-V.

The DSM is used by therapists to diagnose mental disorders

What is the history of the DSM-V?

Before we go into the DSM itself, we should probably look at the DSM in general. It contains the most updated measures of diagnosing abnormal psychology disorders.

The DSM is a manual from the American Psychiatric Association and lists criteria in a common language to help classify different mental health disorders. Psychiatrists, clinicians, health insurance companies, the legal system, and many other people involved with medicine use the DSM to diagnose a patient with a mental disorder.

The need to classify different mental disorders had been around since the 1800s, but that need was because of a different motivation. They divided mental health into mania, dementia, paresis, melancholia, monomania, epilepsy, and dipsomania. It was still simplified, but you can see the improvement.

It wasn’t until 1917 when people wanted a different plan to gather health statistics. The plan was developed by the American Medico-Psychological Association, which is now what is known as the APA. Together with the New York Academy of Medicine, they developed a manual called the American Medical Association’s Standard Classified Nomenclature of Disease, which helped diagnose psychiatric disorders and disorders that are neurological.

The World Health Organization published the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. The US Army published its classification system, which looked at soldiers at the end of World War II. The WHO published the ICD-VI, and the Army’s classification influenced this one, adding mental disorders to the list. It had different categories, including psychoses and disorders of one’s behavior or character.

In 1952, a variant of the ICD-VI was published, and this became the DSM. This was the first manual for clinical use. Since then, the DSM has been revised as our understanding of mental illness has evolved. If you look at the DSM’s older editions, you’ll find inaccurate information about mental illnesses, with some content even being offensive in modern times. For example, the DSM once listed homosexuality as a mental disorder of sexual perversion, and it remained in the DSM until being dropped entirely in the DSM-III-R. There are five editions of the DSM and smaller revisions to those versions before the next major edition comes out.

The DSM-V was first published in 2013, making it still recent in the grand scheme of the DSM’s history. This book is the main authority for diagnosing psychiatric disorders, and it is how many healthcare providers will treat a given disorder. The last edition before the DSM-V was the DSM-IV-TR, first published in 2000. It was the result of many years of research and development. Compared to the previous edition, however, there aren’t too many differences between the DSM-IV-TR and the DSM-5, but there are some notable changes.

Here is a brief list of changes the DSM-V has brought us.

As you can see, how we view mental illness is always changing. How we classify a certain mental disorder can change as we learn more about it and understand better ways to treat it. There are many revisions the DSM-V has made, but much of the previous information is still widespread in society, such as misconceptions surrounding what was previously referred to as Asperger’s syndrome. There will probably be another revision in a few years, and one day, a complete overhaul.

Conditions that further need study

There are mental health conditions that are not classified in the DSM but have been listed as future implementation ideas into the DSM. Let’s explore some examples of conditions that need more research.

Internet gaming disorder


Also known as video game addiction, internet gaming disorder is based upon the idea that someone can be addicted to playing video games. It was not implemented into the DSM-V, as there was little evidence to support it. However, this concept does spark much discussion. Is gaming addiction its disorder, or just a habitual addiction? It is hard to say.

Caffeine use disorder

Most people wake up with a cup of coffee, and it is needed for them to start the day. That said, what is caffeine use disorder? In large doses, caffeine can be more dangerous, speeding up your heart rate. Those who use caffeine heavily know they should cut back but often experience difficulty doing so. That is the gist of caffeine use disorder in a nutshell. Will it become its disorder? We shall see.

Suicidal behavior disorder

Suicide is one outcome of depression, and there was a proposal to include suicidal behavior disorder in the DSM. Simply put, it’s a way of monitoring one’s behavior to see if one is suicidal. Some of the proposed criteria include:

  • The person has attempted suicide in the last couple of years.
  • The suicide attempt was not because of a religious or political attempt or because of an altered mental state.

While this behavior disorder could help a therapist figure out whether or not someone is suicidal, such a sensitive topic does require further research. If you or anyone you know is considering harming themselves or others, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 988 at anytime of the day or evening. There are professionals there who are eager to support you and direct you to critical resources.

Persistent complex bereavement disorder

This is another disorder that could have potential, but it needs further review. It’s also known as complicated grief disorder when grief impairs someone after a long time of grieving. This becoming a disorder could help people who can’t move on from extreme grief. While grief can be a healthy way to cope, too much grieving can have some serious consequences.

Criticisms of the DSM-V

The DSM is used by therapists to diagnose mental disorders

How we classify and criticize mental illness is always under scrutiny as more information emerges within the scientific research community. The DSM-V has had five years to receive scrutiny, but criticism developed even before the book was published.

Some believe the information about certain disorders is poor and even contradictory. Some may believe that the drug industry influenced the book and that there are better ways to treat mental disorders than what was provided. There has even been a petition to review the DSM-V from an outsider’s perspective.

There will always be concerns within the field of psychiatry. There’s always room to misdiagnose or overprescribe medications. However, science is always evolving, and how we look at mental illness in 50 years may appear vastly different from how we do it today. It makes the future quite fascinating to think about and a bit terrifying, as we don’t know how mental health conditions will change.

Online therapists also use the DSM-V

One example of how the mental health community has evolved is through the prominence of online counseling. When the COVID-19 pandemic compelled the psychology community to provide more available means of attaining telehealth, that transition enabled people to see the benefits of online therapy.

Through online therapy platforms like MyTherapist, users can schedule virtual meetings with their counselor at convenient times. There is no need to take off work early or sacrifice another important commitment to travel to an in-person therapist’s office. With MyTherapist, you can meet with your counselor from the couch in your living room, your office at work, or even waiting in the carpool line at school pick-up. 

Online therapy is effective in treating many mental health conditions outlined in the DSM-V, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders. Many people also prefer online counseling because of its tendency to be more affordable than face-to-face therapy.

When you meet with a counselor on MyTherapist, they will work to build a good rapport with you while asking you questions about your background, current lifestyle, relationships, and goals. It is important to keep in mind that online counselors and therapists in general are not just meant to help people overcome mental health conditions. They are excellent resources for working toward a goal or overcoming obstacles in life. 


If, after taking a look through the DSM-V, you believe that you or someone you love may be experiencing a mental health condition outlined in the manual, know that support is available. There are caring professionals at MyTherapist who can offer information, analyze responses to questionnaires, and make recommendations for a course of treatment, if applicable. There is never any shame in asking for help, and at least one in five Americans make the choice to seek therapy each year. When you are ready to add another important member to your support system, reach out to MyTherapist.

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.