Doctor writing on notepadPsychiatry is the field of medicine dedicated to the study and treatment of mental health conditions. A person trained and credentialed to practice this type of medicine is called a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists may treat mental health conditions that interfere with daily functioning such as depression and anxiety, and may also treat mental health conditions caused by physical injuries such as traumatic brain injury. Psychiatrists may practice in a number of specialty fields, including addiction psychiatry, community psychiatry, child psychiatry and social psychiatry. Many psychiatrists partner with therapists and other mental health professionals to provide both talk therapy and medication to their clients.

History of Psychiatry

The field of psychiatry has been around in one form or another for thousands of years. In ancient Greece and Rome, mental health conditions were believed to be caused by supernatural forces. However, Hippocrates posited in the 4th century B.C.E. that mental health conditions might be caused by physiological problems.

In the middle ages, people with mental health conditions were typically placed in asylums that acted as holding facilities rather than as treatment hospitals. In the 18th century, French psychiatrist Philippe Pinel proposed humane treatments for psychiatric patients. Conditions for patients in asylums continued to vary greatly well into the 20th century.

At the turn of the 20th century, psychiatrists began proposing different treatment modalities. Throughout the 20th century, mental health conditions have increasingly come to be viewed and understood as health conditions that are highly treatable. However, psychiatric hospital conditions and protocols can still vary greatly.


Psychiatrists can differ in their treatment philosophy, but the field of psychiatry works on an assumption that mental health conditions have an underlying biological cause. Individual practitioners may not subscribe to this belief. The biocognitive model of psychiatry attempts to incorporate biological and cognitive elements in understanding mental health conditions. Subscribers to this model believe that cognition cannot be reduced to purely physical causes.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Shorter, E. (1997). A history of psychiatry: From the era of the asylum to the age of Prozac. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Last Updated: 04-18-2016

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.