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How Do Psychiatrists Help Their Patients?


State of the art treatment for mental illness is very effective—as effective as treatments for high blood pressure, cancer, and arthritis. But good treatment for mental illness (like treatment for ulcers or heart disease) takes a comprehensive approach. Medication is often not the only treatment for a chronic illness, although excellent new psychiatric medications have been developed in recent years.

Psychiatric treatment involves a full mental and physical health evaluation and an individualized treatment plan, which may include psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, or other modalities. Psychiatrists help patients understand illnesses and understand what they can do to resolve life problems that contribute to illnesses. This may involve issues on the job, in school, or within the family and community.

Psychiatrists see the necessity of working within a tailored approach for the treatment of their patients, often taking a hands-on approach to the whole fabric of the patient’s needs. Educational, medical, spiritual, and interpersonal as well as basic issues such as adequate housing and nutrition are considered. Sometimes the misuse of drugs or alcohol is present and will require treatment.

Today’s model of psychiatric care recognizes the importance of families as part of the treatment team. Enlightened interventions that help families struggling with child abuse and neglect, domestic and community violence, substance abuse, or school failure, increasingly integrate psychiatric consultation into their programs. Any or all of these interventions may be used in tailoring a treatment plan for patients.

What Do Psychiatrists Do? 

  • Assess individuals for mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

  • Evaluate people for substance use disorders like alcohol dependence and drug abuse

  • Identify cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia

  • Screen for medical problems that can cause emotional and behavioral disturbances

  • Order and interpret laboratory and imaging tests when needed

  • Treat common medical conditions and refer to other medical specialists when needed

  • Provide individual, family and group psychotherapy

  • Prescribe and monitor the effects of psychiatric medications

  • Assess and work toward reducing the risk of suicide and violence toward others

  • Educate patients, their families, other medical specialists and the public about mental illness and treatment

  • Obtain informed consent from patients for the services they provide

  • Supervise therapists, doctors and other health professionals-in-training

  • Participate in psychotherapy, psychopharmacology and epidemiology research

  • Assist courts in decisions related to civil and criminal proceedings involving people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders

  • Assist political leaders in developing mental health policies

  • Advocate for improved treatment access and the elimination of stigma against those with mental illness

  • Collaborate with patients, caregivers, agencies and other professionals to provide care for the whole person

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