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What Is a Psychiatric Interview?

The psychiatric interview helps the clinician better understand the patient's history and current symptoms.
A psychiatrist will ask a patient about his or her medical history and past mental heath issues during a psychiatric interview.
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  • Written By: Lily Ruha
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2014
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A psychiatric interview is a conversation between a clinician and a patient for the purpose of determining a psychiatric diagnosis and prescribing treatment. During the initial interview, a psychiatrist establishes a rapport with the client to generate trust. Through a series of questions about emotions, thoughts, medical history and social circumstances, the practitioner gathers important background information. Observing the patient's mood, demeanor, speech pace and discourse patterns often yields necessary insights about the patient's condition. With the patient's permission, relatives, the police, teachers and other individuals might be invited to a psychiatric interview to contribute necessary information.

The goal of a psychiatric interview is to establish a relationship with a patient and gather important information leading to a diagnosis and treatment plan. Establishing a positive rapport with the client is commonly a necessary first step in meeting with a new patient. A clinician might engage in a brief amount of small talk or ask questions about the patient's living situation, age or marital status. By using simple language and a caring approach, trust is often generated, allowing patients to feel comfortable enough to open up about their concerns.

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Psychiatric interview questions typically are structured carefully to create a supportive environment and limit patient discomfort. Clinicians commonly start the interview by asking what has brought the patient to the appointment. If the patient was brought to a psychiatric facility by law enforcement personnel, the clinician might ask about the events that led to hospital admission. While responding to open-ended questions, patients are encouraged to freely describe their thoughts, feelings, circumstances and concerns. The questions might address the patient's daily life, mental health issues, medical history, childhood experiences and/or substance usage.

Open-ended questions also allow time and opportunity for clinicians to closely observe patients. A patient's body language might signal sadness, fear or extreme energy. Speaking in confusing, incoherent or rambling sentences might indicate specific psychiatric conditions. Observing a client who speaks too rapidly without pausing might lend necessary insights for an accurate assessment. A patient's hesitation to answer certain questions might signal the presence of fear, anger or other emotions that are worth further exploration.

Depending on the situation, relatives, law enforcement personnel, teachers and other individuals might be invited to a psychiatric interview. This generally is done with the client's permission and is intended to help the clinician gather background information. The patient's spouse might be asked to comment on the presence of any noises or troubling events that are being experienced by the patient. A psychiatric patient might express financial concerns about the future of his or her family. Upon speaking to family members, the clinician might find that the patient's financial circumstances are not dire, so the patient's concerns might signal excessive anxiety or possible depression.

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