Psychiatry is the medical science that deals with the origin, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of psychiatric disorders ("mental illnesses") including problems of perception, thought, mood and emotions, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. (See: Warning Signs of Mental Illness.) Such disorders may have many sources, both physiological (such as genetic disorders, general medical illnesses, and local brain disease or dysfunction), and experiential (such as childhood trauma, emotional loss, and other stresses of living).
Advances in neuroscience enable a better understanding of the nervous system and its interaction with the rest of the body. There are ever more sophisticated tests and imaging that enhance, but do not replace the crucial tool of face-to-face dialogue which enables a psychiatrist to understand what is bothering a patient, so that solutions may be found.
What is a Psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. A psychiatrist must undergo at least four years of intensive specialty training in psychiatry following graduation from medical school. Among all mental health professionals, only the psychiatrist is a licensed physician trained to diagnose illnesses of all sorts, order and interpret medical laboratory tests, prescribe medication, and coordinate, when necessary the overall medical and psychological care of patients.
Psychiatrists use a wide range of treatment approaches including various forms of psychotherapy, medications, hospitalization and other treatments according to the needs of the patient.
Psychotherapy is a systematic method of treatment in which, during regularly scheduled visits, patients discuss troubling problems and feelings with the psychiatrist who helps them understand the basis of these problems and to find solutions. In some cases, psychiatrists offer therapy in a group with other patients sharing similar problems, or meet with a family as a whole. Psychiatrists also work as a team with other physicians or mental health professionals
Psychiatrists can prescribe a number of medications that are effective against mental illnesses, such as depression, manic depression, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and others. Psychiatrists recommend medications when thorough evaluation of a patient suggests that medication will help, usually in conjunction with psychotherapy. The psychiatrist will discuss with each patient his or her special needs and preferences, as far as possible, to ensure a productive working relationship.
When assessing and treating a child or adolescent, a psychiatrist will need to work closely with parents or guardians, school personnel, and sometimes other community agencies as well as the child’s pediatrician. Similarly, with elderly patients, family members and other support systems are often involved.