Psychiatry is defined as the branch of medicine that specializes on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

A psychiatrist is a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in mental health, including disorders caused by substance use. Psychiatrists are different from psychologists as the former are medical doctors and thus, they must medically evaluate patients to determine if their symptoms are strictly psychiatric, due to physical illness, due to mental illness or a combination of both physical and mental ailments. Psychologists on another part, have an advanced degree, specifically in the field clinical psychology, and often have general training in research or clinical practice. Psychologists often employ psychotherapy to treat mental disorders and others specialize in psychological testing and evaluation.

People seek psychiatric help for different reasons. The problems can be sudden, such as a panic attack, frightening hallucinations, suicide ideation, hearing “voices” or sudden changes in perceived reality. Others can be more long-term, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety that never seem to relax or be resolved by conventional human means or if these problems affect daily functioning, such as lack of control or distortion of everyday life.

As mentioned earlier, psychiatrists are physicians and can thus order or perform a full range medical laboratory and psychological tests, in addition to discussions with patients, in order to help provide a better picture of their physical and mental state. The tests may include mental status examination, physical examination, brain imaging such as computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) scan and blood tests. Psychiatrists use a variety of treatments depending on the needs of each patient. These include psychotherapy, medications, psychosocial interventions and other treatments (such as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT). At other times psychiatrists coordinate with psychologists for the regular psychotherapy sessions of their patients, which may range from weekly to bi-monthly. Psychiatrists are equipped with specialized education and training in order for them to understand the relationship between emotional or psychiatric illness with other medical illnesses and other related factors such as genetics and family history. Their expertise are not only limited to evaluation of medical and psychological data and diagnosis. They also work with patients in developing treatment and recovery plans.

Mental disorders are often diagnosed based on the criteria listed in diagnostic manuals such as the widely used Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Psychiatrists work in different locations and settings. These include private practices, private clinics, general hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, university medical centers and nursing homes. They can also render their services in community agencies, courts, prisons, industries, military settings, rehabilitation programs, hospice programs, and many other places. Like physicians, psychiatrists can also maintain private practices. Psychiatrists can also work or provide their expertise in multiple settings.

Because psychiatry is a branch of medicine and a type of medical practice, it also can coordinate with other disciplines in the field of medicine, such as neurology, hematology, pharmacology, geriatric medicine and pediatrics among others. They also work with mental health counselors, psychologists, nurses, public health specialists and social workers. Considering the scope of the work of psychiatrists and the settings wherein psychiatry is practiced, it has become a very extensive medical field and its practical applications are becoming more useful in our modern times.


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