Why Are Psychiatrists Called Shrinks?

Why Are Psychiatrists Called Shrinks

When one has a mental illness, the psychiatrist is the professional you get to see. Psychiatrists are also medical doctors. The difference between them and a doctor is that they specialize in the treatment of mental health. They do not just treat; they also diagnose and seek to prevent mental illnesses.

The question is, why are psychiatrists called shrinks?

Shrink is another name people use to refer to psychiatrists. It is a name that seems to be synonymous with the word, psychiatrists. However, the question that comes to mind is why are psychiatrists called shrinks? The word ‘shrink’ comes from ‘head shrinkage.’ The term “head shrinkage” refers to a practice in ancient times that involved shrinking the head of a conquered enemy. Thus, it started as a slang that people used to refer to psychiatrists as shrinks. However, the name stuck and continues to date.

Continue reading to know more about this topic!

The First Uses Of The Word ‘Shrink’?

The first recorded use of the term ‘shrink’ was by Thomas Pynchon. He was a novelist of American history who wrote the book ‘Crying of Lot.’ It was in this book that he used the word ‘shrink’ as another name for a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. However, this doesn’t mean that it is the first time in history that someone used the word ‘shrink.’

Is A Psychiatrist The Same As A Psychologist?

The word ‘shrink’ seems to apply to not just psychiatrists, but also psychologists and psychotherapists. As a result, the question becomes whether they are all the same thing or they refer to separate professional capacities.

We mentioned earlier that psychiatrists are also medical doctors. The essence of this is that in treating their patients, they can make prescriptions that they believe will improve the mental health and overall health of the patient.

Although both the psychiatrist and the psychologist help people deal with mental health issues, people confuse them to be the same thing. However, this is not the case. There are some differences between these professionals.

The primary distinction between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that the psychiatrist is a medical doctor, and received the necessary training that qualifies him to be a medical doctor. It accounts for why he can give prescriptions for mental cases, just like a regular doctor can give you prescriptions.

The psychologist, on the other hand, is not a medical doctor and did not receive the requisite training to be a medical doctor. He happens to be someone who just studied clinical psychology and trained in counseling. He may also use the title Dr. because he is a Ph.D. holder, and not because he is a medical doctor.

I believe the area of confusion seems to come from the fact that they adopt the same approach when interacting with their patient. That is, they talk with their patients using psychotherapy to arrive at the problem and in walking them through the solution to their mental health issues.

The Scope Of Psychiatry

The field of knowledge called psychiatry is one that exists at a central point. Its practice is between psychology and neurology. Psychology focuses on studying the mind of people and how they behave. Neurology, on the other hand, refers to studying how the brain and the nervous system works.

Thus, the scope of psychiatry appears to be a combination of these separate bodies of knowledge to fully understand, assess, diagnose, and treat mental disorders and illnesses.

Psychiatrists apply psychotherapy when they are diagnosing and treating these mental illnesses. It is the approach they use when they sit with their patients from time to time to talk about the issues they are having. The essence of the talks is to understand how the patient thinks, how he feels, behaves, and how he relates with other people.

Branches Of Psychiatry

Psychiatry stands as one of the numerous branches of medicine. However, it is still a broad field that has other sub-branches. We must understand these various sub-branches. A clear understanding of them will help us understand the subject of psychiatry better. It will also help us to appreciate the multiple roles that these classes of psychiatrists play in preserving and restoring mental wellness.

There are different branches of psychiatry,

  • Neuropsychiatry
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
  •  Emergency psychiatry
  •  Social psychiatry
  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Forensic psychiatry
  • Cross-cultural psychiatry
  • Military psychiatry
  • Occupational psychiatry
  • Liaison psychiatry
  • psychosomatic psychiatry
  • Geriatric psychiatry.

The fact that we have several branches of psychiatry seems to reemphasize that it is a broad field of study. Each area of specialty in the field helps the practitioners to channel their energy towards one area and become experts at it.

1. Neuropsychiatry

This field of psychiatry refers to the study of the mental disorders connected with sustaining an injury to the nervous system or any form of damage to the nervous system.

2. Child and adolescent psychiatry

As the name implies, this branch of psychiatry concerns itself with the study of mental disorders in children and adolescents. A practitioner in child and adolescent psychiatry is like a pediatrician. However, in his case, it must be children with mental disorder cases.

3. Emergency psychiatry

It deals with the practice of psychiatry in emergencies. Emergencies that require swift psychiatric attention could be where a person is going through depression, wants to commit suicide, or is abusing controlled substances, etc.

4. Social psychiatry

It focuses on the social factors that play out when people interact with one another in society and how it can lead to mental illnesses. It looks at the relationship between people in the community. Thus, helping them to diagnose the issues with the health of their patients and proffering a solution.

5. Addiction psychiatry

Where someone begins to have mental disorders traceable to addiction problems, the person should see an addiction psychiatrist. They are psychiatrists trained to help persons who are battling with addictions that are affecting their mental health.

6. Forensic psychiatry

The branch of psychiatry called forensic psychiatry is very relevant in legal processes. It is an area of psychiatry that uses the skill and knowledge to solve legal problems. They work with offenders that are having mental conditions. The access they have to this set of persons is by relating to the relevant legal unit in charge of the offenders.

7. Cross-cultural psychiatry

This branch of psychiatry looks at the root of cultural and cross-cultural issues that causes mental disorder for people. It examines mental disorders within the framework of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds and affiliations.

8. Military psychiatry

Due to experiences that members of the military have, there is usually the need for psychiatric attention. There are people who develop mental health issues as a result of these experiences. They need psychiatric care from time to time to keep their mental health in check from the traumatic experiences most of them undergo in the course of carrying out their duties.

9. Occupational psychiatry

The branch of psychiatry that we call occupational psychiatry is similar to what we explained concerning military psychiatry. It is in the sense that this branch deals with psychiatric attention in the workplace. It helps the workers to cope correctly with the risks and dangers associated with working in an environment.

10. Liaison psychiatry

This field is an interesting one. It does not just work in isolation. Instead, it works with other areas of medicine. It understands that the mental issues of its patients connect with different parts and functions of his body. As a result, the need for liaison psychiatry arises.

11. Psychosomatic psychiatry

It is a relatively new area of psychiatry. It deals with several factors that cause mental health in people. It looks at the mental, social, and behavioral components of man. It also looks at how some diseases of the body are traceable to mental illness.

12. Geriatric psychiatry

Older persons are more prone to mental illness because of their age. The more they become older, the more tendencies for them to suffer from poor mental health. Diseases that are as a result of old age are not just physical. A lot of them are mental diseases.

Older people tend to suffer from dementia, anxiety, and depression. Thus, the role of the geriatric psychiatrist is to assess the situation. After that, they diagnose what the problem is and treat them accordingly. However, it is essential to note that diagnosing mental illnesses in older people can be quite tricky.

The difficulty in diagnosing cases of mental health in older persons is mainly because they also experience a lot of physical illnesses during the period. As a result, they focus more attention on how they feel physically than mentally. The focus only shifts to their mental health when it becomes quite severe and painful to ignore.


Psychiatry is a field of medicine that is essential in society, just like all other medical fields. Mental health issues rank high among the most prevalent health issues in our community, which points more to the fact that we must take our mental health seriously. Thus, we cannot overemphasize the importance of psychiatrists in the region.

People also refer to psychiatrists as shrinks. It explains why we had to face the question of why are psychiatrists called shrinks. However, we should note that the name is not a derogatory one. It is only a familiar slang people use when they are referring to a psychiatrist.

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