Sunday, December 27, 2015

Not a mental illness

A moment to commemorate psychiatrist Robert L. Spitzer. He died on Friday at the age of 83. He is worth noting for a few reasons:

Starting in 1974 he was instrumental in applying scientific standards to psychiatry. That eventually resulted in a much revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the 3rd version published in 1980. This lists known mental disorders, describes the symptoms, and recommends treatment in an orderly and consistent manner.

In 1973 he played a key part in declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Homosexuality did not appear in the update to the DSM printed in 1974.

In 2001 he conducted phone interviews with 200 ex-gays. His paper reported that "66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had arrived at what [Spitzer] called good heterosexual functioning." The gay community was outraged. The APA disavowed the study. The ex-gay community was delighted and used the study as proof that their programs worked. Spitzer saw how his study was being misused as was horrified. In 2012 he asked for a retraction. He said the study had a fatal flaw, that there was no way to tell whether the subjects in the study were telling the truth. And because of the general disapproval of homosexuality at the time many subjects in the study had a good reason to lie.

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