Pedagogical Strategies for Teaching the DSM

Centering Diversity and Equity


  • Amy Levine University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Mariyln Ghezzi University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



clinical social work practice, social work pedagogy, cultural awareness, DSM-5


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition presents numerous ethical challenges for social workers. As social work educators, we are tasked with preparing students for clinical social work practice, which includes not only instructing students in the use of the DSM-5, but also emphasizing the importance of pursuing social justice and equity in clinical work. With the most recent revision, the DSM-5 Task Force attempted to improve cultural awareness and sensitivity – efforts that yielded mixed results. This article explores the changes, benefits, and shortcomings of these efforts to address cultural diversity and highlights pedagogical approaches for bringing this knowledge to the MSW classroom. We describe specific teaching strategies that underscore the importance of a strong cultural formulation of client problems and are designed to inspire critical thinking about the process of diagnosing. Social workers are encouraged to adopt these strategies for using the DSM-5 not only to better inform their clinical decision-making but also to better align their clinical practice with social work values and ethics.


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