Book Review: APA’s latest guide on DSM-5 skims surface but is okay for lay readers


“Understanding Mental Disorders” is designed for a specific audience: potential patients and their families who are entering or considering entering mental health treatment. The book does this job well. A foreword by former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) presents its themes – that there is a scientific way of understanding mental disorders and that we now have effective treatments.

The book (American Psychiatric Publishing, 2015) is reasonably priced. The well-written, user-friendly text (accompanied by boxes with case examples) summarizes the mental disorders described in the DSM-5.

Dr. Joel Paris

Dr. Joel Paris

It must be said that there is no hint here that there was ever any controversy about what should and should not be included in the DSM-5, how disorders should be defined, or what the boundary should be between disorder and normality. Also, most of the clinical vignettes are good-news stories, underlining the message that mental disorders can be successfully diagnosed and treated – without pointing out how much we still need to know. Perhaps these issues do not belong in a book written for patients and families who need to feel hopeful.

In summary, this book has a mission that it completes with success.

Those who need to know more will have to look elsewhere. Professionals wanting a more detailed look at the DSM-5 should consult another book published by the APA (“DSM-5 Guide Book: The Essential Companion to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” American Psychiatric Publishing, 2014). Those interested in further exploring the complex issues and controversies that swirled around the DSM-5, both before and after its 2013 publication, might want to look at my own volume, now in its second edition (“The Intelligent Clinician’s Guide to the DSM-5,” Oxford University Press, 2015).

Dr. Paris is professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University, Montreal.

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