Dr. Robert Spitzer has passed away on December 25 from heart problems. He was 83. Among his legacy as an influential psychiatrist, Dr. Spitzer was responsible for for removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders.
As a leading psychiatrist, Dr. Spitzer worked on several editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in the seventies and eighties. The Manual, referred to as D.S.M., was a leading reference for all psychiatrists with specific definitions of all known disorders. The textbook was “a major breakthrough in the profession,” which made it possible fsp “all in the profession could agree on what they were seeing,” according to the late Spitzer’s wife, Professor Emerita Janet Williams, who worked with him on the books.
Rather than relying on outdated conceptions, Spitzer crafted the definitions of various mental disorders by gathering leading experts and culling their observations. Dr. Spitzer explained the merit of this approach to the New Yorker magazine in 2005, noting that “rather than just appealing to authority, the authority of Freud, the appeal was: Are there studies? What evidence is there?” Most importantly, they were guided by a scientific standard. “The people I appointed had all made a commitment to be guided by data.”
Many in the LGBT rights movements will remember Dr. Spitzer for his lasting contribution towards the acceptance and equality of homosexuality.
In 1973, Spitzer removed homosexuality from the list of recognized mental disorders in the D.S.M. Continuing his commitment to scientific evidence, he met with gay leaders and activists and found homosexuality simply could not qualify as a disorder if gay people were in fact comfortable with their sexuality. Speaking with the Washington Post at the time, Spitzer explained, “A medical disorder either had to be associated with subjective distress — pain — or general impairment in social function.”
Huffington Post reports Dr. Jack Drescher, a gay psychoanalyst in New York, told the New York Times that Spitzer’s successful push to remove homosexuality from the list of disorders was a major advance for gay rights. “The fact that gay marriage is allowed today is in part owed to Bob Spitzer,” he said.