Five Axes Diagnosis Esoterica

By David Joel Miller MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

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Five Axes Diagnosis Esoterica.


With the release of the DSM-5 using 5 axes may soon be a thing of the past.

Professionals will be looking for this information or most of it. We just won’t be separating it and reporting it this way. I left this post up for those who would like to see the way things used to be.

So in a previous post we talked about some of the reasons clinicians might be reluctant to tell you about your diagnosis, how the diagnosis is based on the DSM-4 (soon to be the DSM-5) from the APA and how diagnosis are categories while people are on a continuum so sometimes people do not fit the diagnosis neatly. We left off with the ideas that there are 5 axis and that most people stop after knowing more or less their diagnosis on Axis one.

Axis One.

The DSM has over 400 diagnoses. Not just mental illnesses but all sorts of other problems that might take you in to see a counselor. They include mental illnesses, emotional and behavioral problems. This section covers about 750 pages of the DSM. My list below is VERY oversimplified

The major sections, not in order are things most of us have heard about:

1. Adjustment Disorders – life’s problems grown large.

2. Anxiety.

3. Mood disorders meaning Depression and Bipolar.

4. Psychosis, like Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective.

5. Disorders first seen in childhood – like ADHD, learning disorders and Autism. (But NOT mental retardation!)

6. Sex, eating and sleeping.

7. Substance abuse.

8. Dementia, physical stuff caused by emotions.

There is a section in the back where other codes, mostly the “V” codes are listed. “V” codes are largely about relationships like parent-child conflicts and partner conflicts. While counselors work in these areas many insurance plans to not pay to treat these things.

Axis Two.

The things we put on axis two are things that we used to think were untreatable – that is just the way you are stuff. This includes personality disorders and mental retardation, a strange mix. Both issues now have appropriate treatments.

Personality disorders are treated using therapies like DBT. Most women in prison are diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Sometimes in practice, the boundary between Borderline and Bipolar gets fuzzy.

Most men in prison get a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder. This is also generally treatable if the client wants to change.

Mental retardation can be treated using behavioral techniques as long as we have realistic expectations. The distinction between mental retardation and developmental delays can get fuzzy. Some people call all of this delays and avoid the politically sensitive issue of saying someone has mental retardation. It is also possible for someone with mental retardation to have an axis one problem like depression.

Axis Three

Did you know that medical conditions can cause symptoms that look like a mental illness? All good therapists like to have clients see a primary care doctor, specialists if needed, to make sure this the problem is not a brain tumor or hormone issue. Things like pregnancy, brain injury and poisoning all get confused with mental illness. In seniors, a lot of this dementia and cognitive decline is the result of side effects of medications the senior is taking. Please, however, do not start or stop meds without talking with your doctor first. Ideally, your doctor and your therapist should be talking and on the same page if you have any medical conditions that may affect your mental state.

Axis Four – Psychosocial and environmental problems

Stressors for short. Not having friends or a family or having a poor relationship with them can cause lots of emotional problems. We also include people with social and educational problems. Being arrested or a victim of crime might get you an Axis Four diagnosis, as would not having medical care or living in poverty. We don’t always talk with clients about these issues as much as we should but these issues are at the core of clients problems a lot of the time. Note that no matter how severe your unemployment problems are if you can’t qualify for an Axis One diagnosis like Depression you may have difficulty getting counseling for your employment or other problem.

If stressors are interacting with your mental health you might want to see a professional or clinician counselor who specializes in individual therapy centered on both these areas. In California, we call this specialty Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC’s.)

Axis Five.

This is a summary scale. Imagine how hard it is, to sum up, a client’s whole life on a 0-100 scale. Imagine getting a pass-fail grade on your life. Imagine trying to grade someone’s life. Lots of other scales have been suggested for this. Insurance types like it because if your GAF number goes up it shows the therapy is working. This makes them happier about paying. Mostly we use this in making decisions about hospitalization or urgent care.

I don’t ever remember telling a client their GAF because it does not much matter unless there is something that needs doing right now and in that case, I want to talk about what it is we need to do now.

So there we have it in two brief posts a very simplified look at the process of diagnoses.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

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6 thoughts on “Five Axes Diagnosis Esoterica

  1. Pingback: Do addict, mentally ill labels help or hurt? | counselorssoapbox

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  4. Pingback: Tests for mental illness | counselorssoapbox

  5. Pingback: What are Personality Disorders? | counselorssoapbox

  6. Pingback: Is it a medical problem or a mental health problem – Axis III | counselorssoapbox

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