Biological psychiatry, or biopsychiatry is an approach to psychiatry that aims to understand mental disorder in terms of the biological function of the nervous system. It is interdisciplinary in its approach and draws on sciences such as neuroscience, psychopharmacology, biochemistry, genetics and physiology to investigate the biological bases of behaviour and psychopathology. Biopsychiatry is that branch/speciality of medicine,which deals with the study of biological function of the nervous system in mental disorders.
While there is some overlap between biological psychiatry and neurology, the latter generally focuses on disorders where gross or visible pathology of the nervous system is apparent, such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, encephalitis, neuritis, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. There is some overlap with neuropsychiatry, which typically deals with behavioural disturbance in the context of apparent brain disorder.
Biological psychiatry and other approaches to mental illness are not mutually exclusive, but may simply attempt to deal with the phenomena at different levels of explanation. Because of the focus on the biological function of the nervous system, however, biological psychiatry has been particularly important in developing and prescribing drug-based treatments for mental disorders.
In practice, however, psychiatrists may advocate both medication and psychological therapies when treating mental illness. The therapy is more likely to be conducted by clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, occupational therapists or other mental health workers who are more specialised and trained in non-drug approaches.
The history of the field extends back to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, but the term biological psychiatry was first used in peer-reviewed scientific literature in 1953. The term is more commonly used in the US than in some other countries such as the UK. The field, however, is not without its critics and the phrase "biological psychiatry" is sometimes used by those critics as a term of disparagement.
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