What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental illnesses and disorders. They are trained to understand the biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to a person's mental health. Psychiatrists use a variety of methods to evaluate their patients, such as interviews, psychological tests, and medical examinations. They work closely with their patients to develop a treatment plan that may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. Additionally, psychiatrists are trained to handle emergency situations, such as suicidal or violent behavior, and can provide crisis intervention when necessary.

Psychiatrists are also responsible for understanding the impact that mental health conditions can have on a person's overall health and wellbeing. They work with other healthcare professionals, such as psychologists, social workers, and primary care physicians, to ensure that patients receive comprehensive care. Psychiatrists may also be involved in research and education, helping to advance the field of mental health and improve treatments for mental illness.

What does a Psychiatrist do?

A psychiatrist sitting across from a patient.

Psychiatrists bring a specialized medical perspective to the treatment of mental health conditions. Their expertise in diagnosis, treatment, medication management, crisis intervention, and collaboration with other professionals makes them indispensable in addressing the complex and multifaceted nature of mental health disorders.

Duties and Responsibilities
Psychiatrists play an important role in helping patients manage their mental health conditions and improve their quality of life. The duties and responsibilities of a psychiatrist are varied and complex, requiring extensive training and expertise in the field of mental health. They include:

  • Diagnosing mental health disorders: Psychiatrists evaluate patients to determine if they have a mental health disorder, and if so, which specific condition they have. They use various tools and techniques, such as medical exams, interviews, and psychological tests, to diagnose patients.
  • Developing treatment plans: Once a diagnosis is made, psychiatrists work with patients to develop a treatment plan. This may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. The treatment plan is tailored to the individual patient's needs and may be adjusted over time as their condition changes.
  • Providing therapy: Psychiatrists may provide therapy to patients themselves or work with other mental health professionals, such as psychologists or licensed clinical social workers, to provide therapy. Therapy may involve individual or group sessions, and may use a variety of techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, or interpersonal therapy.
  • Prescribing medication: Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors and are able to prescribe medication to treat mental health conditions. They work with patients to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage, monitor patients for side effects, and adjust medication as needed.
  • Managing crises: Psychiatrists are trained to handle emergencies and may be called upon to provide crisis intervention in situations such as suicide attempts or severe psychiatric symptoms. They work with other healthcare professionals, such as emergency room doctors, to provide immediate care to patients in crisis.
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals: Psychiatrists work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as primary care physicians, psychologists, and social workers, to ensure that patients receive comprehensive care. They may consult with other professionals, provide referrals, or work on multidisciplinary teams to provide the best possible care for patients.
  • Conducting research and teaching: Many psychiatrists are involved in research and teaching, working to advance the field of mental health and improve treatments for mental illness. They may conduct studies, publish papers, or teach courses to medical students, residents, or other healthcare professionals.

Types of Psychiatrists
There are several different types of psychiatrists who specialize in specific areas within the field of mental health. Here are some common types of psychiatrists:

  • General Psychiatrists: General psychiatrists are medical doctors who provide comprehensive psychiatric care for a wide range of mental health conditions. They diagnose and treat various disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. They may utilize a combination of therapy and medication to manage these conditions.
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists: Child and adolescent psychiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders in children and teenagers. They have specialized training in understanding the unique developmental and psychological needs of young individuals. They address issues such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression, behavioral disorders, and other mental health conditions specific to this age group.
  • Geriatric Psychiatrists: Geriatric psychiatrists focus on the mental health needs of older adults. They have expertise in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions commonly associated with aging, such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease, depression, anxiety, and late-life psychosis. Geriatric psychiatrists also address the unique challenges and complexities related to medication management in older individuals.
  • Addiction Psychiatrists: Addiction psychiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. They have expertise in understanding the complexities of addiction and its impact on mental well-being. Addiction psychiatrists may employ a combination of therapies, medications, and behavioral interventions to help individuals overcome substance abuse and maintain long-term recovery.
  • Forensic Psychiatrists: Forensic psychiatrists apply their psychiatric expertise in legal and forensic contexts. They assess and evaluate individuals within the legal system, such as those involved in criminal cases or civil litigation. Forensic psychiatrists may provide expert testimony, conduct competency evaluations, perform risk assessments, and offer insights into the mental state and behavior of individuals involved in legal matters.
  • Consultation-Liaison Psychiatrists: Consultation-liaison psychiatrists, also known as psychosomatic medicine psychiatrists, work in general medical settings such as hospitals. They specialize in evaluating and treating mental health issues that arise in patients with complex medical conditions. They collaborate with medical teams to provide integrated care, addressing the psychological and emotional aspects of patients' overall health.
  • Neuropsychiatrists: Neuropsychiatrists specialize in the interface between psychiatry and neurology, focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders with underlying neurological conditions or disturbances. They have specialized knowledge in understanding the complex relationship between the brain and behavior, combining expertise in both psychiatry and neurology to provide comprehensive care.

Are you suited to be a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also artistic, meaning they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if psychiatrist is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Psychiatrist like?

Psychiatrists may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, and mental health facilities. The specific workplace of a psychiatrist can vary depending on their specialty and the type of patients they work with.

Hospital-based psychiatrists may work in inpatient psychiatric units or emergency departments, where they evaluate and treat patients in crisis. They may also consult with medical professionals in other specialties, such as neurology or oncology, to provide psychiatric care to patients with complex medical conditions.

Clinic-based psychiatrists may work in community mental health centers or outpatient clinics, where they provide ongoing psychiatric care to patients with a variety of mental health conditions. They may work with other mental health professionals, such as psychologists or social workers, to provide comprehensive care to patients.

Private practice psychiatrists may have their own office or work in a group practice. They may see patients for a wide range of mental health conditions and provide a variety of treatments, such as medication management and therapy.

Mental health facility-based psychiatrists may work in residential treatment centers, halfway houses, or other facilities that provide long-term care to patients with severe mental health conditions. They may work as part of a multidisciplinary team, providing psychiatric care alongside other healthcare professionals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Psychiatrist vs Psychologist

While both psychiatrists and psychologists work in the field of mental health, there are significant differences in their training, education, and scope of practice.

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. They have completed medical school and a residency in psychiatry, which includes training in both medical and psychological aspects of mental illness. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication to treat mental health conditions and may also provide therapy to patients. They often work with patients who have complex mental health needs, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
  • Psychologists, on the other hand, have a Doctoral Degree in Psychology and specialize in the study of human behavior and mental processes. They are trained in psychological assessment and therapy, but are not licensed to prescribe medication. Psychologists may work with patients to address a wide range of mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, or relationship issues. They often provide therapy to individuals, couples, or families and may also conduct research or work in academic or research settings.

While both psychiatrists and psychologists may provide therapy to patients, psychiatrists are more likely to focus on medical management of mental health conditions, while psychologists focus on psychotherapy and counseling. In general, psychiatrists are more likely to work with patients who have complex or severe mental health conditions, while psychologists may work with patients who have a broader range of mental health concerns.

Overall, the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists reflect their different training and education, as well as the unique roles they play in the field of mental health. Both professions are important for providing comprehensive care to patients with mental health conditions.

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The Stigma Attached to Psychiatry

In many societies, there has historically been a stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment, which can extend to the field of psychiatry. This stigma may lead to negative attitudes towards psychiatrists and mental health professionals in general.

However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and the role that mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, play in promoting wellbeing and providing effective treatment for mental health conditions. As such, the stigma surrounding psychiatry and mental health treatment is slowly decreasing.

Additionally, many psychiatrists work to actively combat stigma through advocacy, education, and community outreach. They may work to raise awareness of mental health issues, promote access to care, and reduce discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness.

Overall, while there may be some residual stigma associated with psychiatry and mental health treatment in certain cultures or societies, the field of psychiatry is an important and valued profession that provides critical care to individuals with mental health conditions.

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Comprehensive List of Doctor Specializations and Degrees

Here is a comprehensive list of specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthopaedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.

Corresponding Degrees

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Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopaedic Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist

Psychiatrists are also known as:
Mental Health Physician Mental Disorder Physician Mental Health Professional