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Brief psychiatric interview: Taking a personal history

Taking a personal history can help primary care providers know the patient in a longitudinal way. This helps them to better understand the themes permeating the patient's life.

Although the clinician may not have time to take a personal history with every patient, it is very useful to collect this information with patients who are being treated for emotional or psychiatric issues.

Interview questions

Asking questions about personal history can help you understand the enduring emotional patterns of a patient's life and illustrate where these patterns may have originated.

Useful personal history questions include:

  • Where were you born and raised?
  • Was it a happy home or not such a happy home to grow up in? What made it not so happy?
  • Describe your mother (father). How did you get along with her (him) growing up and now?
  • How many siblings do you have? How did you get along with them growing up and now?
  • Were you ever physically abused growing up? Sexually abused?
  • How far did you go in school? How did it go academically? How did it go socially?
  • What has your work experience been like since school?
  • Can you tell me about significant romantic relationships you have had in your life?
  • Are you in a current relationship (marriage)? How is it going? If you have children, how is it going with them?
  • Do you have friends?
  • Who do you turn to for support?
  • In general, how do you feel about yourself?
  • In general, can you get close to people, or do you tend to keep a distance?

Psychiatric interviewing series 

David Goldbloom and Nancy McNaughton demonstrate clinical interviewing situations


Psychiatry in primary care toolkit

The Psychiatry in Primary Care App has been decommissioned. 

The revised print version of Psychiatry in Primary Care is avaible through the CAMH store. 

We have posted a number of revised chapters from the book in Treating Conditions and Disorders in the new Professionals section of