Guidelines on Language in Relation to Functional Psychiatric Diagnosis

The “Beyond Functional Psychiatric Diagnosis Committee” – from the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), which is part of the British Psychological Society – have published guidelines giving alternatives to standard medical diagnostic language.

For example:

  • Not “mental illness”, but instead “emotional distress, mental distress, severe mental distress, extreme state, psychological distress”.
  • Not “disorder”, but instead “difficulty (e.g. difficulty with mood or low mood)”.

The guidelines have been produced within the context of the DCP’s position statement on Classification of Behaviour and Experience in Relation to the Use of Functional Psychiatric Diagnoses. This statement highlights the lack of validity of current systems (DSM and ICD*), as acknowledged by both critics and those who support the idea of diagnosis in principle. The full statement is available here.

Alongside these developments, the DCP say that:

“… there is a large and growing body of evidence suggesting that the experiences described in functional diagnostic terms may be better understood as a response to psychosocial factors such as loss, trauma, poverty, inequality, unemployment, discrimination, and other social, relational and societal factors. As a profession, we are publicly affirming the need to move towards a system which is no longer based on a ‘disease’ model.”

And in terms of language use, the DCP say:

“… We encourage any usages which attempt to describe behaviour and experience in non-medical terms, and within its personal, interpersonal, social and cultural context.”

Their language guidelines – which can be read/downloaded here – were published in March 2015.

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* DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

* ICD: International Classification of Diseases. The ICD is the other (besides the DSM) commonly used manual for mental disorders. It’s distinguished from the DSM in that it covers health as a whole. While the DSM is the most popular diagnostic system for mental disorders in the US, the ICD is used more widely in Europe and other parts of the world.

Guidelines on Language in Relation to Functional Psychiatric Diagnosis
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