Psychiatry is the branch of medicine concerned with the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses. The word, psychiatry, comes from two Greek words that mean mind healing. Those who practice psychiatry are called psychiatrists. In addition to their M.D.s, these physicians have post-graduate education in the diagnosis and treatment of behaviors that are considered abnormal. They tend to view mental disorders as diseases and, unlike psychologists, can prescribe medicine to treat mental illness. Other medical treatments occasionally used by psychiatrists include surgery and electroshock therapy.
Many, but not all, psychiatrists use psychoanalysis, a system of talking therapy based on the theories of Sigmund Freud, in order to treat patients. Psychoanalysis often involves frequent sessions lasting over many years. According to the American Psychiatric Association, good psychiatrists use a number of types of psychotherapy in addition to psychoanalysis and prescription medication to create a treatment plan that fits a patient's needs.
The field of psychiatry is thought to have begun in the 1700s by Philippe Pinel, a Frenchman, and J. Connolly, an Englishman, who advocated humane treatment for the mentally ill. Before the work of Pinel and Connolly, most people thought that mental illness was caused by demonic possession and could be cured by exorcism. Some physicians believed a theory put forth by Hippocrates, a Greek physician who lived in 400 B.C. According to this theory, people who were mentally ill had an imbalance of the elements: water, earth, air, and fire; and also of the humors: blood, phlegm, and bile.
By the late 1800s, physicians started to take a more scientific approach to the study and treatment of mental illness. E. Kraepelin had begun to make detailed written observations of how his patients' mental disturbances had came into being as well as their family histories. Freud began developing his technique of using the psychoanalytic techniques of free association and dream interpretation to trace his patients' behavior to repressed, or hidden drives. Others worked to classify types of abnormal behavior so that physicians could accurately diagnose patients. Today psychiatry has become more specialized with psychiatrists who focus on treating specific groups of people, such as children and adolescents, criminals, women, and the elderly.
Scientific researchers in the twentieth century have confirmed that many mental disorders have a biological basis and can be effectively treated with psychiatric drugs which fall into four categories: antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antianxiety medications.
See also Psychology.