Liaison psychiatry

Liaison psychiatry is a sub-specialty of general psychiatry. Liaison psychiatry teams provide the psychiatric service for general or acute hospitals (and occasionally other types of hospitals).

This page provides useful information on the nature of the work, the common procedures/interventions, sub-specialties and other roles that may interest you.

Nature of the work

Liaison psychiatry is a young and developing sub-specialty.

Liaison psychiatrists work at the interface of physical health and mental health. They often treat people who are severely unwell, and must balance people’s need for psychiatric treatment against their need for physical treatment.

Most liaison psychiatrists treat ‘working age adults’ from 18 to 65 and many also treat older adults.  Increasingly some new consultant posts have been developed for specialist older adult liaison psychiatrists, and there are a very small number of specialist child and adolescent liaison psychiatrist posts.

Liaison psychiatry is sometimes known as psychological medicine or consultation-liaison psychiatry.

If you specialise in liaison psychiatry, you are likely to be based in a general or acute hospital, rather than in a psychiatric hospital.

Compared to other psychiatric sub-specialties, liaison psychiatry has a relatively greater emphasis on assessment, and less emphasis on providing ongoing treatment. If you like a diagnostic challenge, you like working in a hospital, and you enjoy the more acute aspects of psychiatric practice, then liaison psychiatry may be a career for you.

Common procedures/interventions

Most liaison psychiatrists provide a service across three broad areas of the hospital:

In the emergency department, liaison psychiatrists work closely with emergency medicine consultants and other clinicians to assess and treat people who have presented acutely with psychiatric disorders. This ranges from acute psychoses to deliberate self-harm and drug and alcohol disorders, and undiagnosed patients who appear to be suffering from an acute mental disorder. 

On the hospital wards liaison psychiatrists treat a wide range of psychiatric disorders, some of which may have arisen as a result of a physical health problem.  In other cases the psychiatric disorder may have led to the health problem, or the two problems may be coincidental.  Most liaison psychiatrists will treat some older adults, where skills in assessing and managing confusional states and dementia are also important. They also find the right treatment for someone who may have multiple physical health problems and may be taking an array of medication. The person’s home setting, safety and independence must all be considered as well as decisions about medication and follow-up.

Liaison psychiatrists must be ready to offer assessment and treatment to people with any psychiatric disorder.  Commonly encountered problems and disorders are deliberate self-harm, delirium, depression, anxiety, acute psychosis, addictions and dementia.  They also see people with medically unexplained symptoms, neuropsychiatric disorders, eating disorders and almost any other psychiatric disorder.

The liaison psychiatry outpatient clinic reflects the patient group served by the hospital.  Liaison psychiatrists usually offer treatment for patients with medically unexplained symptoms, as well as common mental disorders (anxiety and depression) that may arise from or worsen a person’s physical symptoms.

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