WHAT IS A PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGIST?
There are many branches of psychiatry and the one that deals with the genetic basis, physiology, and biology of mental illness is called psychopharmacology. A psychopharmacologist is a medical doctor who has received specialized training in psychiatry and who practices in the use of medications for the treatment of mental illnesses. This practitioner evaluates the personal medical and psychiatric histories of patients and their families to render diagnoses and prescribe appropriate drug treatments.
Psychopharmacologist as Detective
A psychopharmacologist identifies and treats patients suffering from mental illness using various techniques.
- Laboratory tests may be performed to eliminate medical causes of symptoms, such as infections, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, electrolyte or hormonal imbalances.
- Genetics contribute to depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses and also affect the way patients respond to various medications. While genetics are not yet being used to assist with diagnosis, pharmacologists are – more and more — using genetic testing to help guide treatment, particularly in patients who have had difficulties tolerating or responding to medications.
- A comprehensive psychiatric interview is necessary in order to understand the type and severity of symptoms in order to help determine a diagnosis.
- As permitted by patients, family members can be interviewed to clarify the patient’s past medical and psychiatric history, and to get a better understanding of any family patterns of mental illness or medication response.
Psychopharmacologist as Educator
Psychopharmacologists often find themselves answering patient questions such as, “What is bipolar disorder?” or “What is depression?” Though it may be easy to describe these and other mental illnesses in terms of symptoms, explaining the causes is not as simple because there are no definitive answers. While the medical basis of mental illness is becoming easier to demonstrate, with the use of functional brain imaging, genetic testing, and laboratory testing, the actual causes of mental illness are complex and multi-factorial.
Treatment Prescribed By a Psychopharmacologist
Medication is one component of the standard treatment for medical illness. Drugs, otherwise known as psychopharmacological agents, are used to treat and manage mood, anxiety, personality, and other disorders. These are recommended when the cognitive, behavioral, and mental symptoms experienced by a patient interfere with the ability to function in daily life.
While medication can be beneficial, they also may cause side effects. Often side effects are transient; If they persist, a psychopharmacologist often can manage by dosing changes or other adjustments by a patient’s psychopharmacologist. Psychopharmacology aims to achieve maximum benefits with minimal potential side effects.
The complexity of medical illness often makes it necessary to use complicated treatments and continue regimens over the long-term. As a result, most psychiatric medications are not over-the-counter and require the expert management and monitoring of a psychiatrist trained in psychopharmacology.
Article content, © Kira Stein, MD, APC. | West Coast Life Center
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