DSM I : 1952 – 1967

The First DSM(Diagnostic and statistical manual)  was published in 1952.  It was created as a variant to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD6).  The DSM I was the first manual that focused on clinical aspects of mental disorders, and was mainly a refection of specific views of prominent psychologists of the time, like Adolf Meyer (Mayes & Horwitz, 2005).

In the DSM I all disorders were thought of as a result of the environment, and these disorders were said to be on a continuum.  Meaning that everyone was in some way abnormal, but those who had more severe abnormalities had a more difficult time functioning in society (Mayes & Horwitz, 2005). Karl Menninger agreed with this view, and thought that separating disorders into different categories was essentially pointless, because he said all disorders were “reducible to one basic psychosocial process: the failure of the suffering individual to adapt to his or her environment. . . . Adaptive failure can range from minor (neurotic) to major (psychotic) severity, but the process is not discontinuous and the illnesses, therefore, are not discrete” (Wilson, 1993, p. 400).  He thought that the ultimate underlying cause for all mental disorders was the same.

The DSM I used the term “reaction” to describe multiple disorders, for example “schizophrenic reaction” (Peele, 2008).

Children in the DSM I:

In the DSM I, there is no category specifically for children; however, under some categories children are mentioned.

Psychotic disorders-schizophrenia reaction, childhood type:

Schizophrenia “reactions” occurring before puberty is in this category, as well as “psychotic reactions in children, manifesting primarily autism” (DSMI, 1952, p.28).

Adjustment reaction of childhood:

This disorder specific to children is under the transient situational personality disorders, and is subdivided into three other categories: Habitat disturbance, conduct disturbance, and neurotic traits (DSM, 1952).


Adjustment reaction of adolescence:

This is also classified under the transient situational personality disorders, and is described as transient reaction of the adolescent “which are the expression of his emancipatory strivings and vacillations with reference to impulses and emotional tendencies. The superficial pattern of the behavior may resemble any of the personality or psycho neurotic
disorders” (DSMI, 1952, p.42).

  • From these descriptions, it is clear that the DSMI did not focus on childhood mental illnesses, and did not have a grasp on understanding them.  In the future DSMs, a major change will occur.

By: Julia Szalwinski

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American psychiatric association. (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.psych.org/MainMenu/Research/DSMIV/Hist

Mayes, R., & Horwitz, A. V. (2005). DSM-III and the revolution in the classification of mental illness. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 41, 249-267. DOI 10.1002 /jhbs.20103

Peele, R. (2008, May 17). Clinical topics. Retrieved from http://www.rogerpeele.com/clinical_topics/history_of_the_dsm.asp

Wilson, M. (1993). DSM-III and the transformation of American psychiatry: A history. American Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 399–410.

Diagnostic and statistical manual mental disorders. (1952).Retrieved from: http://www.psychiatryonline.com/DSMPDF/dsm-i.pdf (Not in alphabetical order because it will not show up if it is in the correct order, and I have no idea why.)

*Pictures from the public domain

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