NHS Careers > Explore by career > Doctors > Careers in medicine > Psychiatry > Learning disability

Learning disability

The psychiatry of learning disability is a sub-specialty of psychiatry, dealing with the assessment and treatment of emotional, behavioural and psychiatric disorder associated with learning disability (mental handicap, mental retardation). Practitioners also provide advice and education about behavioural aspects of learning disability to parents and other carers and to other professionals such as teachers. The nature of problems dealt with is much broader than in other psychiatric sub-specialties and includes organic psychiatric disorders (dementia, delirium, etc.); functional psychiatric disorders (affective disorder, schizophrenia, etc.); autism; challenging behaviour; behavioural phenotypes; epilepsy.

Much work is done in settings other than hospitals (clinics, day centres, family homes, community group homes) and the psychiatric contribution to multi-disciplinary working is greatly valued. Out of hours work is not onerous and there is great scope for research.

Advances in basic sciences have vastly increased the scope for improving the quality of life of people with learning disability through psychiatric intervention.

Personal qualities should include:

  • Work in a multi-disciplinary team
  • Cope with uncertainty
  • Have a questioning approach to diagnosis, classification and intervention
  • Empathise and deal politely and effectively with people of different social, educational and professional backgrounds
  • Gather information and use it to guide clinical practice
  • See opportunities for research and use these to benefit people with learning disability and society more widely

Further information

For further information on these specialties, please contact:

Royal College of Psychiatrists
21 Prescot Street
E1 8BB
Tel: 0207 235 2351
Email: rcpsych@rcpsych.ac.uk
Website: www.rcpsych.ac.uk

More information can also be found on the Medical Careers website