In its ongoing attempts to define, understand, and categorize mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and determine the best treatments, the medical specialty of psychiatry is always up against the deep complexity of the human brain. Psychiatrists conduct research on a wide range of mental conditions and treatment approaches, and the field produces and periodically revises classification systems, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), that clinicians use as guides for diagnosis. While many types of clinicians administer psychotherapy, practicing psychiatrists—who are trained as medical doctors—also commonly prescribe psychotropic medication as part of the treatment they provide. Symptoms of mental illness and distress stem from both biological and environmental factors, and the role each plays varies from person to person. Both psychotherapy and drugs are effective for many psychiatric disorders, and often a combination of the two works best.
What Is Psychiatry?
Helping Disordered Minds
The medical diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions now relies on tools ranging from neuroimaging to transcranial stimulation. Psychotropic medications are still the most commonly sought and prescribed treatments, but increasingly the psychiatric landscape includes more than drugs and pharmacotherapy. Still, psychiatrists face fundamental questions about the nature of their patients’ struggles: What are the best and most helpful ways to classify mental disorders? What is “normal”? How can treatments designed for categories of people be tailored to individuals? Constructive debate and scientific and technological innovation are pushing psychiatry toward more satisfying answers—and to more effectively aid those who seek treatment.