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What are the subspecialties of psychiatry?

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 24 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:s162
  1. Rahul Rao, consultant psychiatrist
  1. South London and Maudsley NHS Trust


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The main subspecialties within psychiatry are those that are recognised for training purposes at both senior house officer and specialist registrar level. They comprise the following:

  • General adult psychiatry. Hospital based and covers all mental disorders in the age group 18-65 years

  • Social and community psychiatry (includes rehabilitation). Same age group as above, but focus is on managing people so that they are able to remain in their own homes. Broader multidisciplinary approach

  • Old age psychiatry. Both hospital and community based, but more focused on the latter

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry. Specialisation in disorders occurring during development, such as conduct disorders or depression. May be either hospital or community based

  • Liaison psychiatry. Hospital based service that covers inpatient wards and the accident and emergency department

  • Forensic psychiatry. Based in hospital, community, or prison settings and concerned with mental disorders in offenders

  • Substance misuse (also called addiction psychiatry). Either hospital or community based and covers a range of addictions, the bulk of which concern alcohol and opiate misuse

  • Learning disability. Strong community focus and concerned with both inherited and perinatally acquired mental disorders such as Down's syndrome and cerebral palsy which affect intellectual and social function

  • Psychotherapy—“talking therapy.” Covers both “here and now” (for example, cognitive behaviour) and “interpretive” therapies that relate to early life (for example, psychodynamic).

Other subspecialties which may be classified as “super specialised” (in that they are either part of a tertiary referral service or have strong academic links) are eating disorders and neuropsychiatry.


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