Historically, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has met an important need in defining a common language of psychiatric diagnosis in North America. Understanding the development of the DSM can help researchers and practitioners better understand this diagnostic language. The history of the DSM, from its precursors to recent proposed revisions for its fifth edition, is reviewed and compared while avoiding the presentist bias. The development of DSM resembles a historic pendulum, from DSM-I emphasizing psychodynamics and causality to DSM-III and DSM-IV emphasizing empiricism and logical positivism. The proposed changes in etiological- and dimensional-based classification for DSM-V represent a slight backswing toward the center.
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