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What is the Connection Between Psychiatry and Neurology?

By T. Carrier
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Neurology and psychiatry are two medical disciplines that share one important link: the human brain. While one branch studies physical illnesses and disorders associated with the brain and other nervous system components, the second field focuses on mental abnormalities. Although psychiatry and neurology remain divided, their connection is visible in human behavior and is realized in scientific research.

The psychiatry discipline and the neurology discipline have both commonalities and differences. In a general context, psychiatry addresses mental disorders, or disorders of the mind. Chronic depression, anxiety attacks, personality disorders, schizophrenias, and eating and sleep disorders are some of the problems psychiatrists help clients face. Neurology also concerns itself with brain-related problems, but it also covers a broader range of issues relating to the entire nervous system. Brain or spinal cord dysfunctions such as tumors or paralysis are studied by neurologists, as well as disorders relating to the nerves.

Both psychiatry and neurology place emphasis on the idea that the brain and body are not separate physical aspects of a person, but rather strongly linked units that have a profound influence on each other. Psychiatry relies on logic and reasoning, both products of an active mind which seeks to give every ounce of information meaning and apply that meaning to a human being’s everyday activities. Psychologists were the first to emphasize the importance of a human being’s ability to reason, communicate, and develop habits and personality. A human mind needs assistance in processing and combining information from sense-based experiences, and it gains this input from the activities of the brain and nervous system. Neurology similarly values the power the human brain and nervous system has to control the body and its interactions with its environment.

In a substantial way, psychiatry and neurology validated study of the human brain as a scientific endeavor. Scientists have tackled many brain-related issues in scientific research and experiments. Individual differences, the debate about whether humans are born with knowledge and personality or whether both are experience-based, the correlation between neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals and illness, and the effects of brain structure on humans are just some of the research areas that unite neurologists and psychiatrists. Since both areas deal with abnormalities and disabilities, the effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and other pharmaceuticals developed for the brain and nervous system is a particularly relevant scientific endeavor.

Neurophysiological tests that measure brain activity — such as an electroencephalogram or a computerized axial tomgraphy scan — are especially useful for both psychiatrists and neurologists. These tests can assess mind-based abilities such as language, attention, concentration, memory, and abstraction. They can help determine if chemical abnormalities or other nervous system deficiencies are the source of erratic behavior as well. For example, physical lesions such as brain tumors can facilitate the type of personality changes and abnormal behavior that often falls under the exclusive domain of psychiatrists.

Some critics argue that psychiatry and neurology are separate disciplines. The former deals with perceptions and the abstract mind, while the latter emphasizes objective reality: the physical brain. Increasing numbers of scientific minds believe in an unbreakable link between the two fields, however. In the United States, one unified organization, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, certifies both aspiring neurologists and future psychiatrists. Further, a whole new discipline that fuses the aims of psychiatry and neurology has emerged as a legitimate scientific pursuit: neuropsychiatry.

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Discussion Comments
By Wisedly33 — On Mar 24, 2014

Another way to look at it is that psychiatry deals primarily with the abstract brain -- the personality, behavior, mood and so forth, while neurology deals with the actual structure of the brain, and physical disorders.

Granted, the physical can cause the psychological and vice versa, and it's not uncommon for psychiatrists and neurologists to work together to help treat a complex case.

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