DSM Pioneer, Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer Dies

Dr. Robert L. Spitzer contributed immensely to various editions of the DSM and helped get homosexuality removed as a mental disorder.
Dr. Robert L. Spitzer contributed immensely to various editions of the DSM and helped get homosexuality removed as a mental disorder.

The psychiatrist Robert L. Spitzer, the man largely responsible for making the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the bible of psychiatric assessments, has died. He was 83.

Dr Spitzer passed away in Seattle at an assisted living facility from complications associated with heart disease. He lives behind his wife, Janet Williams, five children and four grandchildren.

He was associated with Columbia University in New York City for most of his professional career.

Dr Spitzer's greatest contribution to psychiatry, arguably, came with his invaluable work in crafting the DSM since it was first published in 1952. Before its release, he got a job note taking for a committee considering revisions to the document. That piqued his interest in discovering methods of assessment in order to provide better diagnoses of mental illnesses.

He is also considered responsible for the major change in the DSM in 1973 that replaced homosexuality as a mental condition with the term “sexual orientation disturbance.” As a result of this accomplishment, he helped lead the revision of the manual that became the DSM-3.

And it was perhaps the DSM-3 that set the DSM as the go-to manual in assessing and categorizing mental illnesses. In addition, he remained at the helm of the DSM for decades afterwards.

“Bob Spitzer was by far the most influential psychiatrist of his time,” Dr Allen J. Frances,  professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University  and an editor of a later edition of the DSM, told The New York Times. “He saved the field and its millions of patients from a crisis of credibility, raising its scientific standards and rescuing it from the arbitrariness of warring and unsupported opinions.”

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