2010 issue 2


Volume 19, issue 2

World Psychiatry Forum

Are psychiatrists an endangered species? Observations on internal and external challenges to the profession

Heinz Katschnig1
1. Medical University of Vienna, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Social Psychiatry, Lazarettgasse 14A-912, A-1090 Wiedeń, Austria
Postępy Psychiatrii i Neurologii 2010; 19(2): 89-114
Keywords: future of psychiatry, diagnosis, treatment, user and carer criticism, professional competition


Based on recently voiced concerns about a crisis in psychiatry, six challenges to our profession are identified and discussed. As we approach the revisions of ICD-10 and DSM-IV, the validity of psychiatry's diagnostic definitions and classification systems is increasingly questioned also from inside psychiatry. In addition, confidence in the results of therapeutic intervention studies is waning. A further challenge is the existence of de facto subgroups with opposing ideologies, a situation which is responsible for an unclear role profile of the psychiatrist. Challenges from outside include mounting patient and carer criticism, intrusion of other professions into psychiatry's traditional field of competence, and psychiatry's low status within medicine and in society in general. Studies suggest that the decline of the recruitment into psychiatry, as it is observed in many countries, might be related to problems arising from these challenges. It is unclear whether psychiatry will survive as a unitary medical discipline or whether those segments which are more rewarding, both financially and in status, will break away, leaving the unattractive tasks to carry out by what remains of psychiatry. The demise of the generalist and the rise of the specialist in modern society may contribute to this development. Attempts are underway by professional bodies to define the profile of a "general psychiatrist". Such discussions should be complemented by an analysis of the incentives which contribute to the centrifugal tendencies in psychiatry.