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How Do I Choose the Best Psychiatry Books?

By C.J. Wells
Updated May 17, 2024
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Choosing the best psychiatry books depends primarily on who the reader is and the specificity of his or her area, or areas, of interest. Generally, psychiatry books are written for three kinds of readers: medical professionals, particularly psychiatrists or those who are affiliated with psychiatry; those in the counseling professions such as psychologists and social workers; and the general reader. Psychiatry books written for those in the psychiatric field tend to be more technical and jargonistic than those written for the information-seeking layperson, even when written about the same subject matter. Defining who the reader is is essential because there are so many books on psychiatry from which a reader can choose. For example, in 2011, there were more than 40,000 psychiatry books that were readily available.

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that focuses on the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental and emotional disorders. All psychiatrists are medical doctors, so they are able to prescribe medication for the treatment of mental or emotional disorders, which is one of the primary ways in which they are distinguishable from other mental health care professionals, such as clinical psychologists. Books on psychiatric subjects that are written for psychiatrists are nearly always written, or compiled, by other psychiatric professionals. These books often have the heft of a textbook because they are used as reference resources by practicing professionals.

For people who are interested in seeking out the best psychiatry books that are written for — and recommended by — medical professionals, one of the best sources is the syllabi for classes in psychiatry at medical schools. These syllabi often can be found online or by emailing a query to the course instructor. By comparing the required reading lists for medical school courses on psychiatry, a reader who is interested in psychiatry from a medical perspective can compile a list of recommended books from which to pick and choose. Besides introductory books on the expected subjects of psychiatric conditions, disorders and therapies, specialized areas are often included. These focused topics might include forensic psychiatry, child psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychopathology and psychiatric pharmacology.

The layperson, or general reader, who is seeking to learn about the field of psychiatry might be better served by seeking out popular nonfiction on psychiatric subjects. A popular — or bestselling — psychiatric book might not always be factually accurate, but it is a place to start. Many such books were written in a commercial and easily digestible style by practicing psychiatrists, but many others have been written by non-psychiatrists who nevertheless have a knack for making technical subjects easy to understand.

Choosing the best psychiatry books usually requires some research by the prospective reader, either in university or commercial bookstores or online. A quick glance inside the book in question will reveal the author’s credentials and professional background, or how he or she is qualified to write on psychiatric subject matters. A book’s forward also can be revealing; a forward that was written by an eminent expert in the field who recommends the book adds credibility. The bibliography can be a rich source of information because seminal texts in the psychiatric field are often cited in commercial books. When the same author, or specific book, keeps appearing as a cited source in multiple commercial books, that source book can reasonably be considered worthwhile reading as well.

The majority of general readers who are seeking the best psychiatry books tend not to be those who are seeking reading material for general edification — they want to know about a specific disorder or condition, often for personal reasons. This narrow focus-approach is one way to proceed, particularly if the would-be reader has some inkling what the disorder or condition is called. For example, schizophrenia might be a topic of interest, as might anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The range of personality disorders, from narcissistic to antisocial to bi-polar, might likewise be of interest to the general reader. For most general readers, commercial nonfiction books about psychiatric books are suitable for their purposes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Raynbow — On Nov 02, 2014

@rundocuri- I think that your relative will be interested in learning about social psychiatry. A book on this subject will give her an idea about how society affects humans' mental state, and how individuals interact in society.

By Spotiche5 — On Nov 01, 2014

@rundocuri- I think that abnormal psychiatry is a very interesting subject. It is a branch of the field that focuses on behaviors and disorders that are not considered normal. Reading about abnormal psychiatry will give your relative a glimpse at some of the conditions she will be treating if she becomes a psychiatrist some day.

By Ocelot60 — On Oct 31, 2014

@rundocuri- I think that you should start with basic psychiatry books for your relative. These books will focus on the fundamentals and basics of the subject, which she will have to learn first once she starts taking college courses in psychiatry.

By Rundocuri — On Oct 30, 2014

I have a relative who is in high school, but already knows that she wants to be a psychiatrist when she grows up and pursues her college degree. I want to get some books on the subject for her as a gift to help her broaden her knowledge and interest in the subject. What are some of the best psychiatry subjects that I can look for that she will enjoy?

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