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Today's Psychiatrists Less Likely to Provide Psychotherapy Than Ever Before

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 5th 2008

pillsA new study published in the most recent edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry (Volume 65, Number 8, pages 962-970) shows that psychiatrists are increasingly less likely to offer psychotherapy sessions to their patients.  

Instead, due to better psychiatric drugs, financial incentives from managed care companies to provide brief office visits, and a shift in medical school training toward more biological explanations for mental illnesses, today's psychiatrists are more focused on prescribing medications.

The current study analyzed 10 consecutive years of data from office-based psychiatrists, ranging from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s. The percentage of visits involving psychotherapy sessions of 40 minutes or longer declined from 44.4% in 1996-1997 to 28.9% in 2004-2005, extending a trend that was reported in the mid-80s. 

Financial factors also influenced which patients were more likely to receive psychotherapy sessions. Patients who paid out of pocket were more likely to receive psychotherapy than patients with private insurance or public insurance such as Medicare (these patients were least likely to receive psychotherapy).

This shift is not necessarily problematic; a two-pronged approach to treating mental illnesses (where psychiatrists focus on medication prescription and monitoring, and psychologists and other mental health professionals provide psychotherapy services) isn't particularly new. However, not everyone is offered a combination of psychotherapy and medication, which research suggests is the best treatment option for many mental illnesses.  As a result, patients will need to be active health care consumers and make sure to seek out treatment from both types of clinicians


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