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Resisting American Psychiatry: French Opposition to DSM-III, Biological Reductionism, and the Pharmaceutical Ethos

Sociology of Diagnosis

ISBN: 978-0-85724-575-5, eISBN: 978-0-85724-576-2

Publication date: 3 August 2011


Purpose – This chapter has two central purposes. The first is to suggest that western, as well as non-western, illness categories are culture bound. The second is to elucidate the diagnostic and treatment implications associated with adopting a reductionistic diagnostic approach, including for psychiatric as well as nonpsychiatric illnesses.

Approach – A comparative approach is used to highlight the differences between American psychiatry's diagnostic system (i.e., DSM) and French child psychiatry's diagnostic system (CFTMEA). The analysis begins by identifying the overarching differences between the systems, then analyzes the differences between their respective versions of the Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder diagnostic category, and ends by tracing the diagnostic and treatment implications of those differences.

Findings – This analysis reveals that the systems differ in three significant ways: (1) theoretical orientation (biological vs. psychodynamic), (2) the view that symptoms should be counted as opposed to understood, and (3) the presence of symptom checklists versus their absence. Additionally, these differences encourage American clinicians to both administer the ADHD diagnosis to a greater number of symptomatic children and to treat these children with psychiatric medications.

Contributions to the field – The analysis makes three contributions to the field: (1) the comparative analysis highlights the limitations of the DSM's ADHD definition; (2) it strengthens the case for seeing western diagnostic categories in general, and the DSM categories in particular, as cultural artifacts; (3) it elucidates the profound relationship between diagnostic systems and both diagnostic rates and treatment practices.



Vallée, M. (2011), "Resisting American Psychiatry: French Opposition to DSM-III, Biological Reductionism, and the Pharmaceutical Ethos", McGann, P. and Hutson, D.J. (Ed.) Sociology of Diagnosis (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 85-110.



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