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General practitioners (GPs) are known for their ability to treat a wide range of patient problems. Psychology is relevant in all daily thoughts and conversations, but especially comes into play when referring to the health and wellbeing of patients.

I began my career as a GP, but soon realized that psychology was intertwined in every patient conversation, regardless of their ailment. This epiphany led me to seeking a degree in psychiatry. Although I currently work as a GP, my experience in the field of psychology still shapes my patient interactions.

Patients with Common Emotional Problems

If a patient is having emotional problems, such as depression or anxiety, they may first bring it up to their GP. The GP will most likely refer them to a psychiatrist or psychologist for treatment. A GP will make the referral if he or she believes the services are appropriate, or if the referral is recommended by the patient. However, seeing a psychiatrist isn’t an option for everyone. Some patients have no desire or no financial means to be seen regularly by a psychiatrist.

Most psychiatric medication takes at least 2 weeks of regular dosage to help improve a patient’s symptoms. Instead of waiting for a patient to see a psychiatrist, many GPs are comfortable with prescribing a low dose of whatever antidepressant, or other psychiatric drug, will help a patient’s symptoms. Being familiar with psychiatric conditions, as well as the medications used to treat them, is key for a GP in today’s world.

According to one study, 99% of GPs reported managing their patients’ psychological problems, when appropriate. Approximately 88% of patients who presented with a psychological problem were referred to another specialist, but the remaining 12% had their psychological problem managed by their GP. Female GPs manage more psychological problems than their male counterparts.

Patients without Complaints of Emotional Problems

Even when a patient has no complaints of emotional stress, GPs still tap into their psychological knowledge when addressing any patient concern. The language a GP uses paints the picture of whatever disease or ailment their patient is facing. Research shows that the ability to communicate far outranks any other desired qualities in a doctor. Having a solid grasp of psychology is the best way to ensure that you’re conveying your message in a way that your patients will understand and appreciate. Listening to what your patients say is also an important factor.

General practice and psychiatry have a complicated relationship, but when healthcare professionals have a working knowledge of psychology, the patient will benefit.