For those of us who work in acute care psychiatry, the varied word choices can often become confusing, and on occasion, even amusing. Many times I’ve been told by a case manager that they believe their “client” needs an inpatient bed. Add to this mix another popular replacement term for patient, “consumer,” and one can sometimes be unsure just what the right words are to say.

And the whole discussion can even lead to more impactful questions. One interesting query recently heard was, “How can mental health fight for parity, and funding to be on the same level with physical health, when we are reluctant to even use basic medical terms?”

But this seemingly minor debate might help us point the way to a better self-identification for psychiatrists. Perhaps, as the only physicians who work completely in the mental health arena, we should embrace that role even more — which could even benefit our patients/clients/consumers.


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For example, one term often bandied about by emergency personnel is “chemical restraint,” as in, “that person was loud and threatening, so we needed to chemically restrain him.” When you think about it, “chemical” is an odd term in this context, and one used only for psychiatric situations — and perhaps even indicates a different concept of the role of psychiatric medications compared to those for other conditions. We never hear about someone being given “chemicals” for diabetes, hypertension or pain.

“Chemical” sounds like something experimental, out of a laboratory, given for control — not a helpful treatment. When some of our most common drugs are framed in this way, it’s no wonder that some people are very suspicious of psychiatric medications and conditions.