A psychiatrist's day-to-day schedule will vary by setting and area of practice - and their work and time commitments are set according to their personal lifestyles and needs. However all psychiatrists have similar duties during the course of a day.
A psychiatrist's day is typically filled with individual patient appointments. When first meeting a patient, a psychiatrist will perform a psychiatric evaluation and an assessment, which involves talking about the patient's reason for seeking help. The presenting problem can span from depression, substance abuse, or job stress to more serious forms of illness such as schizophrenia. The psychiatrist will provide a diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment based on the assessment outcome.
For psychiatrists who are employed in substance abuse treatment centres or hospitals, a typical day begins by performing patient rounds. This involves going through the psychiatrist's caseload, discussing cases with interns or residents, touching base with each patient to see if any changes to medications or treatments are needed, and keeping up-to-date with any off-duty admissions and issues.
Treating patients is a large part of a psychiatrist's day, and involves far more than prescribing medication. They can either specialize in offering specific forms of treatment or in offering a wide array of treatment (such as psychoanalytic psychotherapy, short-term psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy).
Psychotherapy is a method which involves regularly scheduled meetings between a patient and the psychiatrist. In this scenario, the patient discusses their problems/feelings, and the psychiatrist attempts to help the patient discover and understand the root of their issue(s) and helps to change a patient's thought patterns and behaviours. Treatment may take just a few sessions over a few weeks or months, or many sessions over several years.
Psychoanalysis is a treatment method that requires the psychiatrist to have additional years of training in psychoanalysis. It requires frequent sessions with a patient over several years, and is an intensive form of individual psychotherapy. Psychoanalysis helps patients connect their present feelings and behaviours to events and memories from the past (many which may be long forgotten).
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is done under general anesthesia. It is a procedure in which small electric currents are passed through the brain which will trigger a brief seizure. This procedure may be able to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions. ECT often works when other treatments are proven unsuccessful, but it may not work for everyone.
Psychiatrists may be involved with a variety of additional duties, depending on their area of practice and their area of interest. For example, there may be administrative duties such as writing case notes or discussing billing issues with office staff, or other types of duties such as doing research, writing academic papers or journal articles, teaching in universities and medical schools, or even acting as expert witnesses in court cases.