The author traces the history of the development of DSM-III within the larger context--intellectual, economic, scientific, and ideological--of the development of American psychiatry since World War II. Data were obtained through a literature review, investigation of archival material from the DSM-III task force and APA, and interviews with key participants. This research indicates that from the end of World War II until the mid-1970s, a broadly conceived biopsychosocial model, informed by psychoanalysis, sociological thinking, and biological knowledge, was the organizing model for American psychiatry. However, the biopsychosocial model did not clearly demarcate the mentally well from the mentally ill, and this failure led to a crisis in the legitimacy of psychiatry by the 1970s. The publication of DSM-III in 1980 represented an answer to this crisis, as the essential focus of psychiatric knowledge shifted from the clinically-based biopsychosocial model to a research-based medical model. The author concludes that while DSM-III, and the return to descriptive psychiatry which it inaugurated, has had positive consequences for the profession, at the same time it represents a significant narrowing of psychiatry's clinical gaze.