Works that Shaped the World: ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM-III’

(attribution: ‘Terrible sight by atomic bomb at Hiroshima’, c.1945, Australian War Memorial, P01804.003)

The third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM-III, is widely regarded as a watershed in the history of psychiatry. Published in 1980 after years of tense negotiation within the profession, this iteration of the manual reoriented psychiatric diagnosis away from the psychoanalytic precepts of the post-war decades towards a classification system based on descriptive criteria. The aim was to establish psychiatry’s scientific credentials by standardising diagnosis and elevating symptomatology above causality. DSM-III is also notable for the inclusion of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as an official diagnosis, a development with significant ramifications for the way trauma is understood in the present day. This talk unpacks the history of the DSM, the controversies over the recognition of PTSD, and how the history of psychiatry can help us understand the character of the mental health sector today.

Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen is a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Newcastle, where she recently completed an ARC DECRA fellowship on the uses of psychiatry during the Second World War. The resulting book, Unquiet Minds: Soldiers, Civilians and Psychiatrists in the Second World War, is contracted to Cambridge University Press.


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Date & time

Thu 26 Aug 2021, 5–6.30pm




Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen


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