From the Editor

Psychiatry and neurology: Sister neuroscience specialties with different approaches to the brain

Author and Disclosure Information



Neurologists and psychiatrists diagnose and treat disorders of the brain’s hardware and software, respectively. The brain is a physically tangible structure, while its mind is virtual and intangible.

Not surprisingly, neurology and psychiatry have very different approaches to the assessment and treatment of brain and mind disorders. It reminds me of ophthalmology, where some of the faculty focus on the hardware of the eye (cornea, lens, and retina) while others focus on the major function of the eye—vision. Similarly, the mind is the major function of the brain.

Clinical neuroscience represents the shared foundational underpinnings of neurologists and psychiatrists, but their management of brain and mind disorders is understandably quite different, albeit with the same final goal: to repair and restore the structure and function of this divinely complex organ, the command and control center of the human soul and behavior.

In Table 1, I compare and contrast the clinical approaches of these 2 sister clinical neuroscience specialties, beyond the shared standard medical templates of history of present illness, medical history, social history, family history, review of systems, and physical examination.

Neurology and psychiatry: Differences and similarities

Despite those many differences in assessing and treating neurologic vs psychiatric disorders of the brain, there is an indisputable fact: Every neurologic disorder is associated with psychiatric manifestations, and every psychiatric illness is associated with neurologic symptoms. The brain is the most complex structure in the universe; its development requires the expression of 50% of the human genome, and its major task is to generate a mind that enables every human being to navigate the biopsychosocial imperatives of life. Any brain lesion, regardless of size and location, will disrupt the integrity of the mind in one way or another, such as speaking, thinking, fantasizing, arguing, understanding, feeling, remembering, plotting, enjoying, socializing, or courting. The bottom line is that every patient with a brain/mind disorder should ideally receive both neurologic and psychiatric evaluation, and the requisite dual interventions as necessary.1 If the focus is exclusively on either the brain or the mind, clinical and functional outcomes for the patient will be suboptimal.

Subspecialties of psychiatry and neurology approved by the ABPN

Neuropsychiatrists and behavioral neurologists represent excellent bridges across these 2 sister specialties. There are twice as many psychiatrists as neurologists, but very few neuropsychiatrists or behavioral neurologists. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) has approved several board certifications for both specialties, and several subspecialties as well (Table 2). When will the ABPN approve neuropsychiatry and behavioral neurology as subspecialties, to facilitate the integration of the brain and the mind,2 and to bridge the chasm between disorders of the brain and mind?

To comment on this editorial or other topics of interest:

Next Article: