Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: psychiatry from Philip's Encyclopedia

Analysis, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and behavioural disorders. It includes research into the cause and prevention of mental disorders, and the administering of treatment, usually by physical means, such as drugs and electroconvulsive therapy. Some psychiatrists also use psychotherapeutic techniques.

Summary Article: psychiatry
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(sӘkī'Әtrē, sī–), branch of medicine that concerns the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, including major depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety. Although the Greeks recognized the significance of emotions in mental disorders, medieval thought emphasized demonic influence. From the Middle Ages until the time of the French physician Philippe Pinel (1745–1826), who instituted humanitarian reforms in the care of the mentally ill, there was no organized attempt to study or treat mental abnormalities or to provide decent institutional conditions for the mentally ill. Such 19th-century reformers as Dorothea Dix fought for improved conditions in asylums. The early 20th cent. saw the organization of the mental hygiene movement, dedicated to the prevention of mental disease through guidance clinics and education. Scientists of the period sought underlying causes of mental and nervous disorders. The German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin was the first to divide psychosis into the two general classifications of manic-depressive psychosis (see bipolar disorder) and schizophrenia. Gradually, some psychiatrists, led by Sigmund Freud, turned to the behavior and emotional history of the patient as clues to the nature of psychoneurosis and psychosis.

Today, a wide variety of treatment strategies are used in psychiatry, to combat many different psychological disorders. Psychiatry may involve physiological or psychological treatment, or a combination of the two. Physiological treatment generally involves the use of drugs influencing neurotransmitter functions in the brain, or electroconvulsive treatment (see electroconvulsive therapy). Psychiatrists are licensed physicians, specially trained to treat patients with mental disorders and to prescribe drugs. In recent years, psychological difficulties have lost much of the stigma they once had, and many people have sought psychiatric help who might have been reluctant to do so in the past.

  • See McGovern, C. M. , Masters of Madness: Social Origins of the American Psychiatric Profession (1985);.
  • Thompson, C. , ed., The Origins of Modern Psychiatry (1987);.
  • L. Robins; D. Regier, ed., Psychiatric Disorders in America (1991);.
  • Michaels, R. , ed., Psychiatry (1992);.
  • H. Kaplan; B. Sadock, Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (2 vol., rev. ed. 1993);.
  • Luhrmann, T. M. , Of Two Minds: The Growing Disorder in American Psychiatry (2000).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Psychiatry
Reader's Guide to the History of Science

Lewis Sir Aubrey , The State of Psychiatry: Essays and Addresses , London : Routledge and Kegan Paul , and New York : ...

Full text Article Psychiatry
Bloomsbury Thematic Dictionary of Quotations

See also madness , neurosis , psychology To us he is no more a person/ Now but a climate of opinion. Auden W. H. 1907 ...

Full text Article Psychiatry
Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought

Psychiatry, the medically-based practice of psychology , draws on a wide range of sources including clinical practice itself and the many...

See more from Credo