Alienist – Definition & Meaning

The term “alienist” might sound unfamiliar to many people, but it has an interesting history and meaning. This article will delve into the definition, origin, and associations of “alienist,” as well as its synonyms, antonyms, and usage in example sentences.


An alienist is a psychiatrist or mental health professional who specializes in the legal aspects of mental illness. They are experts in diagnosing and treating mental disorders and assessing a person’s mental state for legal purposes, such as determining their competence to stand trial or their sanity at the time of a crime.


The term “alienist” comes from the Latin word “alienus,” meaning “foreign” or “strange.” It was first used in the 19th century to describe doctors who worked in asylums, where they treated patients who were considered “alienated” from society due to their mental illness.

Meaning in different dictionaries

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an alienist is “a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in the legal aspects of mental illness.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, especially in relation to the law.”


The term “alienist” is often associated with the history of psychiatry and the treatment of mental illness. It has been used in literature and popular culture, such as in the novel “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr, which follows a group of alienists in 19th-century New York City as they investigate a series of murders.


Some synonyms for alienist include psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health professional, mental health expert, and forensic psychiatrist.


There are no direct antonyms for alienist, but it could be contrasted with terms like non-specialist, general practitioner, or layperson.

The same root words

The root word “alien” appears in other English words, such as alienate, alienation, and alienable. These words all relate to the idea of being separated or estranged from something or someone.

Example Sentences

  • The defense team hired an alienist to evaluate the defendant’s mental state.
  • The hospital has a team of alienists who specialize in treating patients with severe mental illnesses.
  • The novel “The Alienist” explores the early history of forensic psychiatry in the United States.
  • The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation by an experienced alienist before making a ruling on the defendant’s case.
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