The adjustment disorders: the conundrums of the diagnoses

James J Strain, Albert Diefenbacher
Comprehensive Psychiatry 2008, 49 (2): 121-30
This article discusses the conundrums and the dilemmas of the conceptual framework of the diagnoses of the adjustment disorders (ADs). The psychiatric diagnoses that arise between normal behavior and the major psychiatric morbidities constitute the problematic subthreshold disorders. These subthreshold entities are also juxtaposed between problem-level diagnoses and more clearly defined major disorders. They present important taxonomic and diagnostic dilemmas in that they are often poorly defined, overlap with other diagnostic groupings, and have indefinite symptomatology. ADs were designed as a "wild card" to allow the coding of a psychiatric "diagnosis" for work done by psychiatrists and other mental health care specialists when the patient's symptoms do not reach the criterion of a major mental disorder. It is therefore not surprising that issues of reliability and validity prevail. The issues of diagnostic rigor and clinical utility seem at odds for the AD. Clinicians need a wild card, and field studies need to use reliable and valid concepts of AD and assessments instruments to determine more exact specification of the parameters of the diagnosis. Finally, appropriate and timely treatment is essential for patients with AD so that their symptoms do not worsen; their important relationships are not further impaired; or their capacity to work, study, or be active in their essential interpersonal pursuits is not compromised.

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