Psychiatry is defined as the medical field that studies and treats mental illnesses such as affective, behavioural, cognitive or perceptual disorders. The origins of the term are Greek and a literal translation would mean “medical treatment of the mind”. The range of treatment is extensive, including psychoactive medication and psychotherapy.

Psychiatrists start their assessment by observing and examining the mental state of a patient. A case history is compiled. Psychological testing and physical examining of the patient are also common. The psychiatrist compares the symptoms with those listed in medical manuals for the topic of mental disorders. Such manuals include the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases and the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.

Most patients either seek treatment by self-referral or they are referred to a psychiatric institution by their physician. Psychoactive medication, like other types of medication, can cause a number of side effects, which means that drug monitoring is usually required. If a patient does not respond to medication, another possibility of treatment is electroconvulsive therapy. This type of therapy is often used in serious cases. Usually, patients are not kept in hospital for longer periods of time, as was the case a few decades ago. Today, psychiatric patients are mostly outpatients who have to consult their physician regularly for sessions with a length of 30 to 60 minutes. These sessions are intended for an update on the patient’s condition as well as to reconsider prescribed medication or provide psychotherapy. How often a patient has to see his doctor depends on how serious his condition is and can range from visits on a daily basis to monthly visits.

Negative publicity has criticised psychiatrists for forcing patients to take medication and for the lack of insight into institutions and treatment. Moreover, companies that produce medication have increased their contact to psychiatrists, making the relationship between the two parties controversial. A further point that is critisised is that many psychiatrists only prescribe medication and do not devote any time to talk to their patients or treat them with the help of psychotherapy.