Patrick DeChello, Ph.D., presents "Understanding the DSM-5."

By Ela Schwartz

Dr. DeChello played to a packed house at the Ruth S. Harley University Center.

Dr. DeChello played to a packed house at the Ruth S. Harley University Center.

It isn’t often the case that a university can say it featured a Vegas-worthy, former missionary turned Ph.D. who promises to “end the day with sex and drugs.” Now that we have your attention, let’s clarify that the speaker was Patrick DeChello, an internationally recognized social worker, clinical psychologist, hypnotherapist and chemical dependency treatment specialist. His Las Vegas appearances refer to his presentations demystifying the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to crowds of more than 5,000 mental health professionals. And any references to sex and drugs were in the context of diagnoses found within the DSM-5.

Understanding the DSM-5—the bible for psychiatric diagnosis in the United States and abroad—is a serious topic. But writing about this conference in a dry, didactic way would be a disservice to Dr. DeChello.

A self-described “closet comedian with a funny-bone disorder,” Dr. DeChello is a firm believer that a workshop on the history, diagnoses and terminology within an almost 1,000-page manual doesn’t have to be tedious. “There’s a lot of anxiety around the DSM-5,” he said. “I love to tell stories and draw people in. I think they retain information better that way. After my trainings, people feel a whole lot better about (the DSM-5). And not one person threw a tomato on the stage.”

The diverse crowd of more than 270 people who packed into Adelphi University’s Thomas Dixon Lovely Ballroom included everyone from undergraduates to graduate and Ph.D. candidates to recent alumni and working professionals across the disciplines of social work, nursing, psychiatry, psychology and mental-health counseling. Over the course of six hours, Dr. DeChello regaled them with jokes, one-liners and anecdotes from his multifaceted career. Far from being self-serving, participants said these tangents succeeded in clarifying a complex topic: This latest—and controversial—edition of the DSM incorporates research, scientific advancement and clinical observation. A culmination of five years of work by 13 different workgroups, it deleted diagnostic criteria while adding 20 new categories of disorders.

“I don’t remember ever taking so many notes at a conference,” said Claudia Rotondo, LCSW, MSWAC, CPP, executive director of the Baldwin Council Against Drug Abuse and an adjunct professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. “It shows how relevant the information (he presented) was.”

Jessica Liu, who expects to obtain her B.S.W. from Adelphi in Spring 2014, said, “I learned a lot about the DSM-5 and am super excited to get my copy.” In addition, she said she was able to network and get advice from professional social workers she met.

Sean Woll, M.A. ’09, a licensed mental health counselor and clinical adviser at Catholic Charities, said, “Throwing that humor aspect in there keeps the energy level up. At my table in particular, we were laughing a lot throughout (the event). But during breaks we discussed what Dr. DeChello talked about and related it to our clients.”

13.10.25 Trauma TreatmentMr. Woll attends three to six Adelphi School of Social Work continuing education workshops a year. “Plenty of schools and associations hold these events,” he said. “Sometimes the presenter is knowledgeable but not very engaging, or vice versa, and I like to have both.”

He’s found the Adelphi speakers fit the bill: “They captivate the audience and have the knowledge to back it up. And that’s why I keep coming back here.”

This is good news to Audrey Freshman, Ph.D., director of continuing education and professional development at the School of Social Work. “I’m very proud of our interdisciplinary community,” she said. “Increasing attendance has enabled us to bring in speakers with not just experience and expertise, but the ability to present complex material in an engaging way. We are proud to bring one of the highest quality continuing education programs to health and behavioral health professionals within our local tri-state community. ”

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