Using a Transdiagnostic Perspective to Disrupt White Supremacist Applications of the DSM




white supremacy, transdiagnostic perspective, DSM


White supremacist applications of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) result in the disproportionate labeling of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color as violent or severely mentally ill. Racial diagnostic disparities and misdiagnoses are endemic in social work practice, in part because of the DSM’s categorical classification system, which encourages reductive thinking and reinforces implicit racial biases. While courses on psychopathology are common requirements for clinical field placements, the mental health field’s reliance on the DSM often contradicts antiracist curricula. In an effort to address this paradox, we utilize pedagogical approaches that seek to critique and deconstruct White Supremacist applications of the DSM while simultaneously preparing students to enter a field that relies so heavily on diagnostic labels. This is done in part by teaching students to shirk the DSM’s categorical perspective in favor of a transdiagnostic perspective—identifying symptoms or traits underlying human suffering that occur across diagnostic categories and are informed by macro systems of privilege and oppression. Teaching students to adopt a transdiagnostic perspective may disrupt White Supremacist practices in diagnostics by encouraging an acknowledgement of multisystem factors underlying human suffering without relying on discrete diagnostic categories that are prone to racial interpretations.


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