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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness


Who is this leaflet for?

This leaflet is for anyone who has been referred to a liaison psychiatry service.  It may also help their family, friends or carers understand more about liaison psychiatry services and what they do.


What is liaison psychiatry?

It has long been known that there is interaction between the body and the mind.  Liaison psychiatry is the specialty of psychiatry that deals with this relationship, and the link between people’s physical and mental health. 


Most liaison psychiatry services are based within general hospitals.  However, liaison psychiatry services may also work with GPs and with community health services.


A liaison psychiatry service may also be known by another name, such as psychological medicine, or general hospital psychiatry.


Who works in the service?

Liaison psychiatry services are usually made up of:

  • Psychiatrists (doctors who have specialised in psychiatry)
  • Mental health nurses
  • Administrative staff.

Teams may also have some or all of the following staff:

  • Psychologists
  • Psychological therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Social workers
  • Occupational therapists
  • Specialists in alcohol or drug misuse.

Liaison psychiatry team members work together, using their different skills and expertise to help people. Liaison psychiatry services also work closely with other doctors and healthcare workers to ensure that your physical and mental health care are as joined up as possible.


Why have I been referred to liaison psychiatry?

You have been referred because your doctor thinks that assessment or treatment by a liaison psychiatry service may help you with your physical or mental health problem. There is good evidence to suggest that helping with psychological or emotional problems can improve your physical health.


What sorts of problems do liaison psychiatry teams deal with?

Liaison psychiatry services see people with a wide range of problems. These include

Do the doctors think that I am making up my problems, or that they are all in my head?

No. Psychological problems are more common in people who have physical illnesses. We also know that if we help with the psychological side of things, the physical problems are more likely to improve. Therefore, your treating team and the liaison psychiatry team feel that it is the best way forward for all of your issues to be addressed, rather than just one or the other.


Do the doctors think I am mad?

No.  Most people with mental health problems are not “mad”, but have problems with feeling stressed, sad, anxious or confused.


Up to 4 in 10 people admitted to hospital will experience some form of mental health problem.  These range from mild and short-lived problems to more serious mental health problems.


The liaison psychiatry service in your hospital will see hundreds of people every year.  They don’t jump to any conclusions about people who are referred to them, but make a careful assessment to understand someone’s physical and psychological problems better. 


Will my medical doctor still see me?

Liaison psychiatry services worked closely with colleagues in the different medical and surgical specialties.  Often, after you have been referred to a liaison psychiatry service, you will still be seen by your medical or surgical doctor or healthcare team. Or it may be more appropriate for you to be managed by the liaison psychiatry team working alongside your GP.


What sort of treatment will I be offered?

Liaison psychiatrist staff are experts at using a variety of treatments for people with physical illness.


You may be prescribed medication.  If so, your doctor will take into account how these medicines might interact with your physical illness or other medications you are taking. 


The team will also consider whether other treatments, such as talking therapies, may help.

This leaflet was produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Liaison Psychiatry Section and the Public Education Editorial Board.

Series editor: Dr Philip Timms

Authors: Amrit Sachar, Alastair Santhouse

This leaflet reflects the best available evidence at the time of writing.

RCPsych logo© October 2015. Due for review: October 2018. Royal College of Psychiatrists. This leaflet may be downloaded, printed out, photocopied and distributed free of charge as long as the Royal College of Psychiatrists is properly credited and no profit gained from its use. Permission to reproduce it in any other way must be obtained from The College does not allow reposting of its leaflets on other sites, but allows them to be linked directly.


For a catalogue of public education materials or copies of our leaflets contact: Leaflets Department, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 21 Prescot Street, London E1 8BB. Telephone: 020 3701 2552. 


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