Getting the right diagnosis often isn’t easy for psychiatric conditions. In our field, we don’t yet have biologic tests that can easily define one condition from another. If your blood pressure is 140 over 90, you have hypertension or high blood pressure. In mental health, we have to rely on a description of patterns or symptoms to makes diagnoses. This model is fraught with challenges.
Without a clear biological model to work from, and given the complexity of the human brain, the field has settled upon dividing these descriptions of symptoms into syndromes. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) holds these symptom descriptions in order to help professionals make reliable and consistent diagnoses. This means a social worker in Detroit should make the same diagnosis as a psychiatrist in Boston and a psychologist in Santa Fe. However, the diagnostic process is more complex than just reading symptoms in a DSM.