What is neuropsychiatry, and how does this field differ from the traditional specialties of neurology and psychiatry?
The best answer to these questions is that neuropsychiatry is a concept that has undergone continuous evolution over the past 150 years. Over these years the term has had widely disparate meanings--both to medical professionals and to the general public. During the first 75 years of the 20th century, critics of psychiatry contended that the field had become a "brainless profession" that had abandoned its roots in neurobiology and in evidence-based medicine, while neurologists had become less sensitive and prepared to treat the omnipresent psychosocial aspects of brain-based conditions under their purview (Martin, 2002; Sabshin, 1990; Yudofsky and Hales, 2002). During that era, many medical professionals and the general public considered neuropsychiatry to be almost synonymous with biological psychiatry. Fortunately, by the turn of the 21st century, research discoveries about the brain bases of many psychiatric conditions coupled with the revolutionary successes of somatic treatments for people with severe and persistent mental disorders helped return psychiatry to mainstream medicine.
Today, most regard neuropsychiatry as a subspecialty of psychiatry that focuses on caring for the behavioral, cognitive and emotional symptoms of patients who suffer from what are conventionally regarded as neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury and multiple sclerosis. Neuropsychiatry also focuses on symptoms that "fall between the cracks" in the porous boundaries between neurology and psychiatry, such as dysfunctions of attention, alertness, perception, memory, cognition, language, intelligence and motivation. Nonetheless, fundamental to any conceptualization of neuropsychiatry is "the indelible inseparability of brain and thought, of mind and body, and of mental and physical" (Yudofsky and Hales, 1989).
In this special report, two excellent review articles, "Brain Imaging Data of ADHD" and "Utilization of MRS to Identify Neurochemical Abnormalities in Patients With Bipolar Disorder," document how advances in the functional imaging of the living brain are shedding new light on our understanding of the pathogenesis, pathophysiology and treatment of two prevalent and disabling psychiatric conditions in children and adults. A third review article, "Applications of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Therapy in Psychiatry," is exemplary in examining how brain-technology interfaces hold promise for innovative treatments of a broad range of psychiatric illnesses. As a group, these three papers comprise representative samplings of the avalanche of opportunity brought about by contemporary basic and clinical neuroscience discovery in the more sensitive and valid diagnosis and effective treatment of people who suffer from mental illnesses.
The fourth article found in this section, "Educational Issues in Neuropsychiatry," seeks to answer the question "what is neuropsychiatry?" by reviewing how clinicians who currently define themselves as neuropsychiatrists or behavioral neurologists receive their training in these subspecialty areas. The article reviews the core curricula developed jointly by the American Neuropsychiatric Association and the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology, the two most prominent U.S. organizations representing neuropsychiatry and behavioral neurology, respectively, and concludes that the absence of a formal board certification process has restrained the growth and, by implication, the consensual definition of the two subspecialties.
Remarkably, on June 30, the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS), whose parent organizations are the American Academy of Neurology, American Neurological Association, Association of University Professors of Neurology, Child Neurology Society and Professors of Child Neurology, wrote to the presidents of the American Neuropsychiatric Association and the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology to inform them that their joint application for a neurological subspecialty area had been approved! Formal accreditation processes for fellowships and certification processes for neuropsychiatry and behavioral neurology will be established through the auspices of the UCNS. We believe that this is a major step in understanding and caring for the many patients with devastating symptoms and syndromes that fall through the arbitrary and confusing boundaries between neurology and psychiatry.
It is with great appreciation that Psychiatric Times acknowledges Stuart C. Yudofsky, M.D., and Robert E. Hales, M.D., for their work in planning and reviewing this special report.