Psychology Diagnosis and DSM-IV

The main purpose of the DSM-IV is to provide a modern classification system for abnormal behavior and psychological disorders Comer, 2008). Put simply, it helps clinicians diagnose a disorder. The system lists over 400 disorders with criteria for diagnosis. The clinician evaluates five axes of information before determining a diagnosis (Comer, 2008). Another important aim of this classification system is to provide a sort of standardization for diagnosis. While it is not something that requires adherence, it represents common ground for clinicians to utilize, discuss, and ultimately learn more about diagnosis.

So, how much value is created by the aims of such a classification system? To answer this, it is important to evaluate the reliability and validity/accuracy of the system. DSM-IV serves as a revised version of previous DSM classification systems. With new diagnostic criteria and more research, reliability has increased. Reliability adds value because it is important to have a dependable diagnosis. Clinicians will be more likely to use the system and the system itself will be a consistent aid. In addition, promoting accuracy of information provides value. The DSM-IV system increased validity of information through extensive review and studies. The result is quality data and information that can be used in the diagnostic process. These to factors lead to a system that is the most widely used in the United States (Comer, 2008). This is perhaps the greatest value of such a system. To have a system that is widely accepted and creates a common starting point for diagnosis provides many advantages. It ultimately helps further the study of psychological disorders through collective efforts instead of only individual ones.

Despite the positive effects of such a system in the realm of diagnosis, there are some dangers and drawbacks to such a widely used system. One potential danger involves misdiagnosis. This is always a danger in psychological disorders, but more so when there is a large, significant source of information. Clinicians are can fall into a habit of focusing on certain pieces of information for diagnosis (Comer, 2008). This is a dangerous tendency that can lead to the wrong diagnosis. It is always a concern that diagnostic labels create too much of a commitment to a specific diagnosis when there can be so much variance. Also, a primary source of information creates a dependency or need for accuracy and reliability. If any biases or misinformation get through, the trickle-down effect can be disastrous. Finally, classification and labeling of people often produces stigmas, negative stereotypes, and even “self-fulfilling prophecies” (Comer, 2008). There is a natural tendency for the outside world to judge disorders, even without adequate knowledge. Additionally, labels create a predefined set of behaviors for the individual, who may feel inclined to meet such criteria even if it is unnatural to the specific case (Comer, 2008). All of these are potential dangers when creating diagnostic labels or using a classification system. Even so, there will probably never be a “perfect” system where clinicians can always make the correct diagnosis and people are never stereotyped. A certain amount is simply human nature.


Comer, R.J. (2008). Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology (Fifth Edition). New York,

NY: Worth Publishers.