What Is Clinical Psychiatry?

K. K. Lowen

Clinical psychiatry involves the treatment and identification of mental disorders. A clinical psychiatrist attempts to discover the causes of a patient’s mental unease through evaluation and may treat the issue with medication, psychotherapy, or some combination of the two. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who perform these activities, and although they are sometimes confused with psychologists, the two professions are not the same.

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The evaluations used in clinical psychiatry may depend on the psychiatrist, but the assessments usually have the same general goals. A psychiatrist must determine what the problem is, current physical health, family health history as well as the individual’s home life and work life. If the patient is a child, interviewing the entire family is sometimes useful for fully diagnosing the issue. When needed, clinical psychiatrists may utilize a number of medical tests during the evaluation process as well, including blood tests and x-rays.

Treatments used in clinical psychiatry depend on the patient and the nature of the problem. Some psychiatrists offer psychotherapy before resorting to medications, when possible. Types of psychotherapy that may be used include cognitive therapy, group analytic psychotherapy, or supportive psychotherapy.

Psychiatrists often must prescribe drugs to patients if the problem is physical, extreme, or when other types of therapy have failed. The type of drug prescribed depends on the patient’s mental health problem. For example, a drug in the class of benzodiazepines may be appropriate for anxiety or insomnia, while an antipsychotic medication may be necessary for a patient suffering from schizophrenia.

Clinical psychiatry may take place in private offices, public clinics, or hospitals. When working in a clinic, psychiatrists may work closely with other people in the health and mental health fields, such as psychologist, pediatricians, or neurologists. If the psychiatrist has a private practice, it is still necessary at times to contact colleagues in clinics or hospitals during the evaluation process or course of treatment because expertise in other areas of the health field may be necessary for some patients.

The field of clinical psychiatry commonly is confused with clinical psychology, and although they have similar goals, clinical psychologists and clinical psychiatrists are different types of mental health professionals. One of the most obvious differences is educational background. Like any physician, psychiatrists must complete medical school, whereas psychology degrees do not require extensive medical training. This difference manifests itself in a major way. Clinical psychiatrists have the ability to prescribe drugs to their patients, while clinical psychologists must have a medical doctor or psychiatrist prescribe drugs for their patients when needed.

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