edited by Alan F. Schatzberg, M.D., and Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D.; Arlington, Virginia, American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc., 2006, 899 pages, $109 softcover
Dr. Scheider is a resident in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.
Psychiatry is a field known today as much for its characteristic medications as for its varied forms of psychotherapy. Practitioners are often called upon to make decisions about medications that provide clear benefits but frequently are also associated with an assortment of potential risks. It is essential for psychiatrists to have a firm foundation in the evidence base for the use of these medications as well as a thorough knowledge of the expected effects, side effects, and potential interactions.
To this end, the Essentials of Clinical Psychopharmacology serves as a reference for anyone involved in the medical practice of psychiatry. This is an abridged form of the bulkier and more extensive American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychopharmacology. I was surprised to find that with the exception of some clinical updates, the text is essentially unchanged from its larger namesake. The difference is that the textbook is divided into four subsections, whereas the abridged volume is made up of the two most clinically relevant of these subsections. One subsection treats each medication separately, and the other is divided by chapter into the pharmacological treatment of specific disorders.
The individual chapters are written by nationally and internationally known experts. The first section provides detailed information on the history, structure, pharmacology, side effects, and potential drug interactions for the medications covered and a review of the evidence of indications approved and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The second section is an extensive review of pharmacotherapy for each major DSM diagnosis as well as other major categories of concern, such as aggression, agitation, pregnancy, and late-life issues.
Overall, this book is excellent in providing a solid foundation in basic psychopharmacology. The chapters are notable not only for their content but also for the extensive reference sections that provide a rich resource for further reading.
There are some drawbacks to this book, but they are relatively minor. It focuses only on medications approved for use in the United States and provides little information on other medical options that may be available in countries as close as Canada. Also, although the multiauthored approach has clear strengths, there are also limitations. There is some variability between the thoroughness of each chapter, and I believe that the reader will note that although some chapters are exceptional, others are less so.
The question is not whether every psychiatrist needs a copy of this book, but whether it makes sense to buy this abridged version or the larger textbook. The larger volume is certainly sturdier given that it is hardcover, and it has about 50% more pages. However, bigger is not always better, and the reader may find that the additional information—chapters on the basics of pharmacology and of the biological basis of the various psychiatric disorders—may be easily obtained from other sources. The unique and valuable sections, those on the drugs themselves, are available in both editions, and the abridged version has updated information. Ultimately, I would recommend looking at a copy of both and making the choice for yourself before buying. No matter which edition is chosen, the reader will have a valuable resource that will be useful for years to come.