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Influential Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer Dies at 83
Dr. Robert Spitzer died of heart complications on Friday, December 25th at age 83. Spitzer was coined as the ‘Most Influential Pyschiatrist’ due to his major contributions in modern psychiatry, including his work on several editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.). The D.S.M. is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.
He worked alongside other psychiatrists to clearly define numerous mental illnesses based on research and evidence including anorexia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other now-familiar disorders.
He caused much debate when he supported therapies that were created to “cure” homosexuality. During that time, he believed that homosexuality was a mental illness. After much controversy, he met with several homosexuals who were happy, comfortable, and open about their sexuality.
The D.S.M. defines a mental illness as, “A clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (i.e., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., an impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom.”
He later retracted his views, stating that, “In order for homosexuality to be a mental disorder it either had to be associated with subjective distress, pain, or general impairment in social function.” In 1973, homosexuality was removed from the D.S.M. Gay rights advocates accredit him in pushing the effort in removing it from the list.
Dr. Allen Frances, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University and editor of a later edition of the manual, says that Spitzer, “was by far the most influential psychiatrist of his time.”
Jill Hamilton, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been the Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, Nebraska State Conference Planning Committee; she is a volunteer mentor with Y.E.S., and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.