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A Brief Refresher On Psych Standards

Anyone who works professionally in mental health (with the right licenses and education) knows the standard diagnostic tools and how to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-5). Still, you may ask but who decides all these criteria for assessing and diagnosing my patients? The Psychological Corporation? A group of other doctors somewhere? Here’s a tiny, brief list of who’s been “in charge” recently in psychology and psychiatry.

The American Psychological Association (APA)

The American Psychological Association is a sweeping group of well over 100,000 American members involved professionally in psychology. The efforts of the APA are divided up into numerous small interest groups, usually around 54. They do quite a few things in the psych community, but it can be broadly stated that one of their biggest accomplishments is improving and standardizing psych research and methods. For example, the APA style of academic writing standardized how social and behavioral science papers are written and read.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA)

The American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations are two different entities. Both are shortened as APA and both have resisted changing their acronym in the past, so use caution when looking one up.

The American Psychiatric Association is the main professional organization of (mostly American) psychiatrists as well as the largest organization of psychiatrists in the world. The difference between psychologists and psychiatrists can end up being a bit long-winded but think of it this way: psychiatrists are generally able to diagnose conditions and then use prescribed medications in their therapies. Psychologists generally don’t have medication-prescribing abilities and focus mostly on cognitive behavioral therapy.

The APA (psychiatric…) is perhaps most well known for publishing the “Bible” of the mental health community: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, or DSM-5. The DSM-5 is the codification of psychiatric conditions that are used all over the world for diagnoses by professionals.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

While WHO is a much broader, widespread health entity associated with the United Nations, it does play a part in changes in mental health standards. For example, it maintains a comprehensive list called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). In June of 2018, they removed being transgender from the mental health disorders section of the ICD and transitioned it to the sexual health conditions section, prompting more conversation about modern human gender identity.

Publishers and Other Authorities, e.g. The Psychological Corporation

Education facilities such as universities play a part in changing psych standards. But another surprising influence in the world of psychology? Academic publishers. Ever heard of Pearson? If you went to American schools at any level, you likely used a textbook published by them. A division of Pearson, Harcourt Assessment, is one of the biggest developers and distributors of assessment materials used by psychology professionals. It’s the culmination of several acquisitions over about a century, including absorbing the long history of research progress at The Psychological Corporation. In a psych session, you may take a test pioneered by doctors in the original Psychological Corporation.

The reality is that our perceptions and criteria for various disorders change as we conduct and peer-review more research. That’s one of the first things you learn as a student in mental health care. After all, about one-fifth of U.S. adults (or approximately 43.8 million people) experience mental illness every year; that’s a lot of potential variation to study. Still, your patients rely on you to provide them with the most up-to-date and accurate information. Share this list with them if they’re curious about where your criteria come from, and make sure you get your up-to-date tests from Digital Wellness Group’s database.

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