Noted psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer has passed away from heart problems at the age of 83. Spitzer was best known for playing an integral role in the development of the 3rd edition of “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” published in 1980. The book set the standard for the modern classification of mental disorders which involves classifying mental disorders in discrete categories with specified diagnostic criteria. However he later criticized (what he saw as errors and excesses) in ensuing versions adopted by the field. He also co-developed the “Mood Disorder Questionnaire,” a screening technique used for diagnosing bipolar disorder, and helped create the “Patient Health Questionnaire” (PRIME-MD), which can be self-administered to find out if one has a mental illness.
Among his most controversial work, however, were his studies regarding homosexuality. In 2001, Spitzer delivered a controversial paper; “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?” At the 2001 annual APA meeting in that paper, Spitzer argued that it is possible that some highly motivated individuals could successfully orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. According to a Washington Post article Spitzer claimed to have held 45-minute telephonic interviews with 200 people who attested that their respective sexual orientations had changed from homosexual to heterosexual. Although Spitzer said he “began his study as a skeptic,” the study revealed, “66% of the men and 44% of the women he spoke to had arrived at what he called “good heterosexual functioning.” He defined this as “being in a sustained, loving heterosexual relationship within the past year, getting enough satisfaction from the emotional relationship with their partner to rate at least 7 on a 10-point scale, having satisfying heterosexual sex at least monthly and never or rarely thinking of somebody of the same sex during heterosexual sex.” He later apologized for the study after being highly criticized for it.
Robert Leopold Spitzer was born May 22, 1932, in White Plains, New York. He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornell University and his M.D. from New York University School of Medicine in 1957. He also served on the 4-person United States Steering Committee for the United States–United Kingdom Diagnostic Project in 1972. However, he spent most of his career at Columbia University in New York City, and was on the research faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, before retiring after 49 years in December 2010.
His wife Janet Williams, Columbia University Professor Emerita, survives him