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Keywords:

  • classification;
  • diagnosis;
  • DSM-IV;
  • nosology

Objective: The aim of this paper is to describe the development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV), its purposes and limitations, and the psychiatric nosologies which may emerge from advances in psychiatric research and which may supersede the current classification system.

Method: A review of the methodology used to develop DSM-IV, considered in the context of current and future psychiatric, neurobiological, and genetic research, was undertaken.

Results: The DSM-IV is a descriptive nosology that has shaped psychiatric research and clinical practice by providing agreed-upon definitions of psychiatric disorders based on the current state of empirical data. Despite the critical importance of the DSM system of classification, this complex yet limited nosology will eventually be replaced by simpler, more incisive explanatory models of psychiatric illness that reflect the interplay of biological, psychological, environmental and social variables affecting the expression and treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Conclusions: As we continue to understand the pathophysiology of brain disorders, as well as the biological effects of psychiatric interventions, we will be able to move from a descriptive model to an integrative, explanatory model of psychiatric illness.