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What is "psychiatry"?

Psychiatry Terms

Christopher Reist (Academic Psychiatrist, Co-Author of “Psychiatry”) gives expert video advice on: What is "psychiatry"?; What's the difference between "psychiatry" and "psychology"?; What is a "mental disorder"?

What is "psychiatry"?

Psychiatry is a medical subspecialty that focuses on the assessment and treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatry is very focused on helping people with mental disorders achieve recovery and get them back to a full level of functioning. Psychiatry looks at mental illness from the medical standpoint. Just as we look at hypertension or cardiovascular disease, when we look at mental disorders, we're really looking for what the biological underpinnings of this illness are. Psychiatry also borrows very heavily from other fields, especially psychology. Psychology has been very helpful in understanding some of the psychological processes that are part of mental illness. It's also important for psychiatrists to have a good appreciation of culture, history and anthropology because the way we gather our information about a person is through talking to them, so we really need to understand what are those other factors that would be influencing that kind of communication. That's really what makes psychiatry challenging and fun: there are a lot of aspects of the person that we need to pay attention to and really strive to understand.

What's the difference between "psychiatry" and "psychology"?

Well there's actually a significant amount of overlap between psychiatry and psychology. I think the primary distinction would be more from the training aspect. Psychiatrists have completed medical education; they've done a residency that, often in its first year, includes experience in internal medicine, family practice, or neurology. This kind of training gives psychiatrists a medical perspective to the individual. This would allow them to have an understanding of other medical disorders that might manifest themselves with psychiatric symptoms and it also prepares them to be able to prescribe medications. Psychiatry incorporates a lot of the knowledge that has been developed by the field of psychology. Psychology's been very interested in developing the techniques to understand human behaviour, both normal and abnormal, and it has really made a big contribution to what psychiatry does.

What is a "mental disorder"?

A mental disorder can be defined loosely as a condition that causes distress or dysfunction. I think Freud put it best in saying that a healthy mind is one that can love and work. So I think we try to define mental illness as a condition that results in the inability to love and work, such as <a href="http://www.videojug.com/interview/bipolar-disorder">bipolar disease</a>. In more modern terms this would be defined as a more social or occupational impairment; the inability to have relationships or to be able to work productively.