Neuropsychiatry, as the name suggests, is a branch of medicine that focuses on psychiatry via neurology. The spotlight is on studying and treating cognitive and behavioural symptoms of patients that also suffer from neurological disorders. Also known as organic psychiatry, this ever-evolving field of medical study is about recognising and focusing on psychosocial factors in order to better understand a patient’s ailments.

Neuropsychiatry: The Middle Path Between Psychiatry and Neurology

Neurology and psychiatry are fields that detect and treat very specific symptoms. Neuropsychiatrists treat physical and mental indicators that fall into that “middle zone”.

Neurology focuses on motor and sensory functions, while psychiatry is all about behaviour, mood, thought and affect. Moving through the centre, neuropsychiatry deals with perception, memory, alertness and attention, language and speech, intelligence, cognition, and motivation (apathy).

What Does a Neuropsychiatrist Do

If you’re training to be a psychiatrist and are interested in branching out into organic psychiatry, then an MSc in neuropsychiatry is the way to go. Not only will you be fully trained as a psychiatrist, but you will be part of a field that has witnessed resurgence in the last decade or so.

A neuropsychiatrist does all that a psychiatrist can do from patient assessments to diagnosis, treatment, prescription, and referrals. Additionally, as mentioned in the previous section, a neuropsychiatrist goes above and beyond trying to identify and treat symptoms that may not fall into regular categories of neurology and psychiatry. 

To put it simply, a psychiatrist or mental health therapist will look at how the external world is affecting your behaviour and personality. Additionally, a neuropsychiatrist will look “within”, often examining your neurological networks and the brain’s chemical makeup.  

What Are Neuropsychiatric Disorders?

A neurological disorder that takes its toll on your behaviour, mood, thought and personality falls under the ever-expanding field of neuropsychiatry. 

The term can be applied to common neurology-related mental health disorders in children. ADHD, conduct disorder and anger issues, for instance, will sometimes be referred to as neuropsychiatric disorders.

An acquired brain injury or ABI, both traumatic and non-traumatic, can bring about a host of mental issues. A neuropsychiatrist can treat a patient suffering from the after-effects, both short-term and long-term, of an ABI. 

For instance, a patient with epilepsy could suffer from psychosis or a patient with dementia could end up with depression. Neuropsychiatry can help make medical correlations that will provide patients with specific treatment for their ailment.

Besides the disorders mentioned above, neuropsychiatry is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that fall into the proverbial “middle zone”. They are as follows:

  • Any illness diagnosed without known cause, a Functional Neurological Disorder, can be treated by a neuropsychiatrist. In the past, these conditions were all grouped under hysteria.
  • Depression and states of manic euphoria can really take their toll on a person and neuropsychiatry can help when counselling and psychotherapy have not brought desired results.
  • Paranoia resulting from a lack of sleep can wreak havoc on a person, both physically and mentally. A neuropsychiatrist can help train you to inculcate better sleeping habits, even prescribing medication that can aid sleep.
  • Therapy counselling is all well and good when the condition is common and easily treated. Organic psychiatry aims to go beyond neurology and psychiatry, dealing with conditions that arise from brain damage, or any other neuropsychiatric ailments.
  • Certain patients with a history of receiving counselling and psychotherapy will naturally want to try new ways to get better. Organic psychiatry could be the answer to their woes.

Neuropsychiatry – A Brief History

Within the annals of neuroscience history, the term neuropsychiatry has held different meanings at different times depending on the social, cultural and political factors prevalent at the time.

The origin of neuropsychiatry goes all the way back to scientists in 19th century Europe. 

Étienne-Jean Georget, a French scientist in the early 1800s, highlighted the organic nature of mental disorders. His peer Laurent Bayle went a step further when he emphasised the common thread between dementia and mental disorder.

Around the same time in Berlin, Wilhelm Griesinger, who many consider the founding father of neuropsychiatry, stated that “mental illnesses are diseases of the brain.” Griesinger influenced many stalwarts in the field, most notably Emil Kraepelin, the founder of modern scientific psychiatry, and Alois Alzheimer, who identified the first case of “presenile dementia”, that later came to be known as Alzheimer’s disease.

By the 1900s, organic psychiatry was a burgeoning discipline in countries where German and French were spoken. At Harvard University, James Putnam, a renowned neurologist, was laying the foundations of neuropsychiatry in America by bringing together psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and even philosophers.

With the rise of Fascism in central Europe, and even after World War II, the idea of neuropsychiatry spread across North America and Britain because of the rise in immigration. Medical experts practising a holistic approach to neurology and psychiatry began to influence and shape neuropsychiatry in the 20th century.

Neuropsychiatry – The Present

Presently, organic psychiatry has been gaining momentum due to two main factors:

  • The rise in evidence-based connections between neurology and psychiatry that goes a long way in solidifying the foundations of organic psychiatry.
  • FNDs and other ailments that fall under neuropsychiatry are being taken very seriously by governments all around the world. In-depth research right from the outset can give us the tools to deal with such issues in a timely manner.

A lot of constructive debate has been going on around the territorial demarcations for neuropsychiatry. This speciality’s biggest strength is how it can deal with symptoms and illnesses that blur the line between neurology and psychiatry.

For instance, the psychiatric community has been studying to find a common link between disorders of the immune system and psychosis. Another example is how treating Tourette syndrome requires the specialist to be familiar with movement disorders, OCD, and other developmental disabilities. This is exactly the intersection where a neuropsychiatrist would thrive.

Just like any other field of medicine, a neuropsychiatrist practices neuropsychiatry. In that lies the future of this fascinating medical speciality.

Neuropsychiatry – The Future

It all comes down to cementing a holistic training manifesto for neuropsychiatry. The organic psychiatric community is working towards greater integration between clinical neurosciences and traditional psychiatry. This will be crucial to the future role of neuropsychiatry in treating medical conditions that veer towards the unknown.

For instance, in 2010, the International Neuropsychiatric Association put forward a core curriculum for wider application in the field. This needs to be built upon and together with further research in the field can drive neuropsychiatry to new heights.

Organic psychiatry’s pace of progress will always depend on the integrative approach between psychiatry, neuroscience and present neuropsychiatry standards. The community should take hope from how positive research and treatment of Alzheimer’s over the last 15 years owes a lot to psychogeriatrics and neuropsychiatry, an intersection that goes well beyond just neurology-based solutions.

AUAMED is all about a holistic approach to the medical sciences. That’s why, as part of the MD Program, the Clinical Sciences curriculum includes a comprehensive grounding in neuropsychiatry. This helps our medical students keep an open mind and deal with symptoms and ailments that are not easily definable. Their basic knowledge of neurology and psychiatry will enhance their understanding of organic psychiatry and turn them into invaluable, open-minded doctors.