Psychiatrists need more training to adequately treat people with ID

By Shirli Werner, PhD
Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel

Psychiatrists are responsible for providing proper care for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) who have psychiatric disorders (dual diagnosis). However, anecdotal evidence suggests that psychiatrists lack adequate knowledge to treat this population. This study examined psychiatrists’ perceptions of their own training, knowledge, and therapeutic skills, as well as their attitudes towards individuals with a dual diagnosis of ID and psychiatric disorders.

What did you do in your research?
Questionnaires were distributed to psychiatrists working within the public sector in Israel. Completed questionnaires were returned from 256 psychiatrists.

What did you find out?
Most (90%) participants reported having had limited training in the diagnosis and treatment of people with ID. Further, between 34% and 72% reported having inadequate knowledge in specific areas. In addition, 94% agreed that there is a lack of skilled personnel, 83% stated that adequate knowledge was lacking among mental health professionals, and 47% agreed that there is prejudice among mental health workers towards individuals with ID.

What are the take-home messages?
In Israel, as in some other nations, people with ID are cared for by general mental health services. Thus, it seems that current services inadequately meet the needs of this population. These inadequacies could be overcome through the implementation of a model in which specially trained psychiatrists are deployed within generic services. Another possibility would be a compromise between ‘only generic’ and ‘only specialized’ services, where dual diagnosis specialists might support the generic services in their treatment of people who have mild ID and relatively simple mental health problems, while taking direct clinical responsibility for people with more severe ID and/or more complex mental health problems.

To learn more about these findings contact Shirli Werner.

Full Journal Article
Werner, S., Stawski, M., Polakiewicz, Y. & Levav, I. (2013), Psychiatrists' knowledge, training and attitudes regarding the care of individuals with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57(8), 774–782.