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Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, study, prevention and treatment of mental disorders in humans and, like other fields of science, is not safe from unfounded criticism or woo. It is particularly hated by Scientologists, who refrain from taking psychiatric drugs, and is targeted by conspiracy theories from said cult religion. Due to its checkered past and controversial practices like involuntary treatment, use of physical restraints, and abuse of procedures like lobotomy and electroconvulsive therapy (all of which except lobotomy are still in use), psychiatry has garnered a significant amount of opposition which often takes the form of mental illness denial. (For more on this topic, see Thomas Szasz.)

Psychiatry and psychology[edit]

Psychiatry as a profession should not be confused with clinical or counselling psychology, which is closely related. Although much of their respective practices overlap with each other, psychiatrists differ from psychologists in that they have medical training and are licensed to prescribe medications and order lab tests. Psychologists, by comparison, have an advanced degree in psychology (most often a Ph.D. or a PsD.) and use a non-medical approach involving talk therapy and psychological testing.

Early and modern psychiatry[edit]

Interestingly enough, early psychiatry involved purging Satan from patients, and today religion is still relevant. People who believe in an angry, punishing God are more likely to suffer psychiatric symptoms than people without that belief.[1] Even earlier than purging Satan, holes were drilled into the skull.

During most of the 20th century, psychiatry was dominated by the psychoanalytic school started by Sigmund Freud and developed in non-Freudian directions by Carl Jung and Alfred Adler and others. This has since fallen out of favour. These days, psychiatrists tend to prefer more evidence-based treatments such as newer forms of psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals like antidepressants (although the efficacy of these has been called into question from time to time). Psychiatrists treat a wide variety of conditions ranging from phobias to personality disorders, autism, gender dysphoria, PTSD and schizophrenia. In some cases their subject matter overlaps with that of neurology, such as various forms of dementia, brain injury and sleep disorders like sleep paralysis. Many of the first psychiatrists were in fact trained as neurologists, including Freud.


In the United States, the American Psychiatric Association's official handbook, the DSM (now in its 5th edition) is meant to be a universal guide to psychiatric diagnosis using standardized criteria. Any revisions to the DSM are generally met with controversy over the validity of its categories and whether certain disorders are real diseases versus social constructs. (The latest changes involved adding several new disorders, removing others — most contentiously of all, Asperger's syndrome, which is now conflated with autism as part of a severity scale — and renaming several more, such as changing "gender identity disorder" to the less stigmatizing "gender dysphoria".) Because of the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in the developed world and the ready availability of medical information over the Internet, it is not uncommon for people to self-diagnose with various conditions. Physicians tend to look down on this sort of thing, however.

See also[edit]