Psychiatry is a branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health, including qualifications to assess both mental and physical aspects of psychological problems. Because they are physicians, psychiatrists can order or perform a full range of medical laboratory and psychological tests which, combined with discussions with patients, help provide a picture of the patient’s physical and mental state. Their education and clinical training equip them to understand the complex relationship between emotional and medical illnesses and their relationships with genetics and family history. The doctor evaluates the medical and psychological data in order to make a diagnosis and work with patients to develop a treatment plan. When indicated, medications are used by the psychiatrist in much the same way that they are used to treat high blood pressure or diabetes.
Treatment of children with mental health issues differs from the treatment of adults and requires an additional two-year fellowship training for competence. Child psychiatrists are educated in multiple areas, including developmental pediatrics, neurology, as well as psychotherapy. They take into consideration the child’s developmental milestones, family dynamics, medical history, as well as school performance, prior to making a treatment plan. Psychotherapy involving the family is often the first recommendation. Medications, if indicated, are used in the lowest effective dose after discussion of risks and side effects with the parents.