What is Psychiatry?

16th October 2023

Psychiatry is described as the branch of the medical profession that is concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of metal disorders. The term psychiatry is derived from two Greek words meaning "mind healing". Until the 18th century, mental illness of disorder was most often seen as demonic possession, but it gradually came to be considered as a sickness requiring treatment. By the 19th century, research, classification, and treatment of disorders had gained momentum. Psychotherapy evolved from its origins in spiritual healing.

[While prior to the 19th century and into the 19th and 20th centuries, persons with mental disorders were often treated cruelly in institutionalized settings, there have been various reform movements since the 19th century on, in the field of mental health, which has led to more humane conditions in most modern countries, though certainly not universally, towards the mentally ill.] The psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud and his followers dominated the field for many years and did not receive a serious theoretical challenge until behaviour therapy and therapies deriving from humanistic psychology were developed in the mid-20th century, [Gestalt Therapy being one major school of thought to emerge in the mid-20th century, which greatly influenced and has become a part of most branches of psychology.].

Insight therapies such as psychoanalysis, which pursue greater awareness of the patient's internal conflicts, are still practiced in psychiatry [and in psychology. Psychoanalysis, while it was dominant in the earlier decades of the 20th century, is not the most dominant form of psychiatry of psychology today. However, there are many psychiatrists which still practice more or less traditional psychoanalysis in their treatment of clients with mental health disorders and anxieties. It continues to be a branch of psychiatry in modern day practice.]

The trained psychiatrist, has completed medical school and a psychiatric residency [which a psychologist has not.] [A psychiatrist] commonly employs medical treatments in addition to psychotherapy. [Today that usually consists of psychopharmacology, with use of psychotropic drugs. Psychotropic drugs are drugs which alter the mind. Psychiatrists are licensed to administer these drugs in the United States, but psychologists are not. If a psychologist feels that a client needs psychiatric drugs, then a psychiatrist or a medical doctor needs to prescribe these drugs. In the case of a child, a pediatrician will often prescribe psychotropic drugs].

Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT),or shock therapy, continues to be used for severe depressions and certain forms of psychosis. [However, it is not as dramatic as it used to be, and clients are sedated, safe and secure during shock therapy sessions. Often times, sessions are scheduled at regular intervals of 10-30 sessions. It is not the case of one or two treatments. Clients often experience temporary relief from depression through this method, but recurrence of the depression is common, and a client might return for another and another series of shock therapy sessions.]

The medical technique which is by far the most widely used is drug therapy (psychopharmacology). The advent in the 1950s of psychotropic drugs revolutionized treatment of the mental patient. Like other medical techniques drug therapy has sometimes been abused in pursuit of patient "management" [e.g. chemical straightjackets].

The role of the psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker, members of the treatment team, are not necessarily clearly delineated, and there exists an uneasy balance between the treatment team in their respective roles.

Information from:
Psychiatry. Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol 9. (1988). Chicago: University of Chicago. p. 761.

In a practical setting today, the majority of psychiatrist, but not all, practice primarily, first, the role of identifying the symptoms, and labeling a mental health disorder. Appropriate medications (psychotropic drugs) are then prescribed. Therapies, most often Interpersonal and Group Therapy, are sometimes also considered, sometimes a psychologist is also employed for Interpersonal or some other form of therapy. The model that is dominant in psychiatry today is the medical model, which is based on a almost strictly biological and genetic approach to mental health disorders. Despite conclusive evidence from all sources that the medical model of treatment is woefully inadequate and inaccurate, it persists as the dominant force in psychiatry.

Some of the reasons for this is that:

1. It is convenient and simple.
2. It is not time consuming.
3. It sedates and effectively controls clients who may be disorderly or have a tendency towards violence, behavioral control.
4. It is highly profitable, and pharmaceutical companies have lobbied and advertised heavily over the past decades, very successfully, thus influencing both the medical community [some might say, buying out the medical community] and the general population. We have become a pill-happy society, where popping pills for a small headache, cold, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health disorder, is quite acceptable and easy.

Other models for mental health such as Uri Bronfenbreener', Bioecological Model are much more complete in identifying the various dynamics of mental health.