Saturday, 3 November 2012

What is Psychiatry?

In Singapore, many people do not know what psychiatry is or what psychiatrists do. Even healthcare professionals sometimes get confused between psychiatrist and psychologist. Let me explain what Psychiatry is.

What is Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is a medical specialisation focusing on mental illnesses and disorders. Before Psychiatry, mental disorders were thought of as demonic possessions or character flaws. Sufferers were often locked up and kept away from society. In the 20th century, psychological treatments were discovered for these illnesses. The first medication for psychiatric disorders were discovered in the 1970s.

Who are Psychiatrists?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained and specialises in the field of psychiatry and psychology. As medical doctors, we are trained to identify and diagnose psychiatric and mental disorders. We can then prescribed the necessary treatment for our patients and these can be therapy, medications and even simple lifestyle changes.

When it comes to talk therapy, the role of psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors may overlap. Depending on his training, the psychiatrist may decide to perform the talk therapy with the patients himself. Often, he may work with the psychologist or counsellor in his team to implement the therapy.

Psychiatrist vs Psychologist: Who to see?

If you suspect you or your love one has a psychiatric illness or condition, it will be best for you to seek help from a medical doctor. A good staring point may be your family physician or a psychiatrist. Many a times, medical conditions (eg. Hyperthyroidism) can masquerade as low mood, anxiety or poor sleep. You should see someone medically trained to make sure that the psychological condition is not due to a medical problem.

For this reason, in most Singapore public hospital, you will need to consult a psychiatrist before you can be referred to a psychologist or a counsellor for therapy. The psychiatrist is responsible for making the diagnosis and to decide on the treatment plans for you. Only a medically trained doctor can order blood tests or prescribe medications.

For the best outcomes in treatment, a multi-pronged biological-psychological and social approach is recommended. Hence, when considering private care treatment, it is important to remember that a psychiatrist is in the unique position to provide holistic and comprehensive care:

  • Exclude other medical problems
  • Diagnose your condition
  • Prescribe the appropriate medication /  biological therapy
  • Address psychological issues and perform psychological therapy
  • Advise on lifestyle changes