What is a Psychiatrist?

The field of psychiatry involves the treatment of mental disorders, and psychiatrists are trained physicians who evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients who are affected by temporary or chronic mental health issues.

Contrary to popular belief, psychiatrists don't only treat people who are "crazy" or "insane." This is a misconception and a distortion of the truth since people who suffer from delusions or hallucinations form only a fraction of psychiatric patients.

Many people have borderline or temporary psychiatric conditions that can be effectively treated, resulting in full recovery of the patient.

What does a Psychiatrist do?

A psychiatrist specializes in mental health, including substance use disorders. They are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems. Unlike other fields of medicine, the treatment regimen in psychiatry may change significantly depending on the patient's response to medication or psychotherapy.

Becoming a psychiatrist requires a passion for helping people and having the necessary patience to evaluate each individual, even when patients may not be eager to cooperate due to stress or severe mental symptoms. Psychiatrists may deal with people who come from various backgrounds and who may have financial, emotional, and/or social issues that further aggravate their mental disorder.

A psychiatrist sitting across from a patient.

Although the location of the problem is the brain, psychiatrists do not treat organic or structural disorders such as epilepsy, consequences of strokes, or brain cancers. These disorders, however, may cause psychiatric symptoms and mental alteration in certain patients, which requires the ability to make a differential diagnosis and apply correct treatment.

Psychiatrists treat a great variety of mental disorders ranging from mild and temporary to severe and chronic. For example, depression, which is a mental disorder that involves intense feelings of sadness and lack of motivation, may be effectively treated through psychotherapy, as can anxiety and certain phobias.

Mild depression may be a transient condition, and may be the result of emotional trauma and tragic events in the patient's life. Psychiatrists are able to identify early signs of depression and find its roots, and then apply psychotherapy techniques and potentially antidepressants to treat the patient. Medication in psychiatry is used only when counseling and therapy fail to produce noticeable results.

Anxiety disorders involve unexplained fear, panic, or phobias that are manifested in certain situations and greatly affect the patient's career, social life, and mood. Along with depression, anxiety disorders are considered mild psychiatric disorders because they are usually temporary and respond well to treatment, which frequently results in full recovery.

Patients who suffer from hallucinations and delusions may have more severe psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. This mental disorder requires careful evaluation of each case, and is usually treated through medication. Although schizophrenia is considered a chronic mental disorder, there are many cases of effective recovery and elimination of medication in certain patients.

With proper psychological, emotional, and social support, many patients who have severe mental symptoms are able to improve and reconnect with society, which allows mental health professionals to lower medication dosages. In certain cases, relapse of symptoms may occur, which requires a new treatment strategy and elaboration of alternative therapies for a particular patient.

Moreover, some patients who suffer from delusions may gradually reintegrate into society through psychotherapy, work, and friendships, and are able to function as normal individuals on low doses of medication or no medication at all. The final results greatly depend on the ability of the psychiatrist to recognize the potential for a patient to recover and cope with their mental disorder.

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.

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What is the workplace of a Psychiatrist like?

Psychiatrists usually work in hospitals, psychiatric clinics, or other mental health institutions. They may also work at private medical offices, prisons, or other correctional facilities.

Primary care units and emergency departments usually don't employ psychiatrists since mental disorder symptoms are not considered emergencies, although, if severe enough, they may require sedation until the patient is transported to a psychiatric clinic.

Psychiatrists must have the ability to cope with stress and remain calm in difficult situations, as certain patients may become aggressive, either verbally or physically. However, contrary to popular belief, only a small fraction of patients exhibit aggressive behavior, which may be solved through administration of sedative medication.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Both psychiatrists and psychologists conduct psychotherapy and research, but there are two significant differences between the two professions.

The number one difference is in education. A psychiatrist has a medical degree and is a medical doctor, whereas a psychologist has a Master's or Doctoral Degree in Psychology. The second difference is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication, whereas a psychologist cannot.

When considering this career, ask yourself whether you'd prefer to assess, diagnose, treat mental illness, and prescribe medication (psychiatrist), or if you would rather conduct psychotherapy, administer psychological tests, and conduct research (a psychologist).

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What are good qualities for a psychiatrist to have?

Psychiatrists should think of patients in a holistic way, asking about diet, exercise, sleep, relationships, support systems, and different stressors in their life. This is necessary in order to make an informed assessment and a proper evaluation.

It is also important for psychiatrists to possess some degree of humility when speaking to their patients, even admitting to not knowing something if that's the case and saying they'll look into it and get back to them with a factual answer. This shows a partnership and a collaboration with the patient, which results in a more trustful relationship and ultimately a more successful outcome.

It also goes without saying that psychiatrists need to really listen to their clients and convey authentic concern, always being respectful of their patient's feelings.

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What is it like being a psychiatrist?

A student will typically get into the field of psychiatry because it is almost like a calling to them. Psychiatry can be quite stressful at times, especially if one chooses to work with more acutely ill patients. But for the most part, the nature of this career tends to be more laid back than others.

People who have psychiatric illnesses often need quite a bit of time in order to make positive changes, and tend to have long term relationships with their psychiatrists. Therefore, psychiatrists are patient with seeing results, knowing that they will most likely be having relationships that are months and sometimes even years long with their patients.

There are many choices of career paths within the psychiatric field, so one can choose a calm and predictable outpatient practice, or a busy acute inpatient unit.

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Why is there a stigma in society regarding psychiatrists?

Psychiatry is different from other areas of medicine - and mental suffering is different from other areas of illness. When the body is ill, it impacts the body. When the mind is sick, it impacts the person—the very substance of who that person is. And that can be unsettling. No wonder there is a stigma among the general public that psychiatry is a pseudoscience and that one should be slow to trust mental health care providers. It's both unfair and unfortunate that a doctor saying they are a psychiatrist at a dinner party earns far less respect than a doctor saying they are a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist.

The brain is one of the most important and most complex things that exists, however our understanding of brain science is still in its infancy. Psychiatrists are at the frontline of the many ethical, legal, moral, and medical issues that confront them when they encounter patients who are hallucinating, catatonic, aggressive, suicidal, paranoid, high on drugs, and physically sick. They need to base their assessments through clinical observations and history-taking, as opposed to predominantly using laboratory tests. This is because diagnostic imaging or blood tests don’t exist for most psychiatric disorders.

As doctors, psychiatrists understand the ins and outs of the body as well as the mind. Their training - four years of medical school followed by four years of psychiatric residency - allows them to diagnose basic and complex psychiatric conditions which include: psychosis; affective disorders; anxiety disorders; and behavioural disorders. They are also able to prescribe medications, to deliver psychotherapy, and to administer somatic therapies. Some psychiatrists specialize in liason psychiatry, childhood and adolescent psychiatry, or forensic psychiatry.

There are those with the opinion that psychiatric treatment (medication) is dangerous, unnecessary, and should be avoided at all costs. Others say that psychiatrists have dramatically improved their quality of life. Unfortunately, while other medical professions benefit from online reviews or word-of-mouth referrals, psychiatric care still carries a stigma and most people who see psychiatrists keep their opinions and experiences to themselves. People don't tend to feel comfortable posting public reviews and sometimes avoid even telling their close family/friends about their psychiatrist.

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What is a psychiatrist's daily schedule like?

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.

Patient Assessments
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.

Patient Rounds
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.

Other Duties
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.

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What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists often work in tandem to treat their patient's symptoms from both a behavioural and clinical standpoint. They share a common goal - the desire to help people feel better. The fields of psychology and psychiatry are both essential in offering treatment for improving mental and emotional health.

After seeing a family doctor for a referral, a patient might meet regularly with a clinical psychologist to address behavioural patterns. That clinical psychologist may refer the patient to a psychiatrist who is able to prescribe and monitor medication.

Because clinical psychologists and psychiatrists often work together for the well-being of the client, their job descriptions may overlap somewhat. While they both work in the mental health field, they perform very different roles (particularly in the type of treatment they administer). Each profession also requires different educational paths.

The Role Of A Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists conduct psychological tests, focus primarily on psychotherapy, and often treat both emotional and mental suffering with behavioural intervention (behavioural intervention involves having patients replace problematic behaviours with more positive ones).

Clinical psychologists tailor their treatment plans to each individual patient, as different people have different problems, and respond best to different forms of therapy. Even two people with the same problem may respond very differently to treatment and recovery plans. Clinical psychologists do not typically prescribe medication.

In terms of education, a clinical psychologist must complete four years of university, a two-year master's degree, and a further two years of supervised clinical training. Graduate school provides aspiring clinical psychologists with extensive preparation for a career in psychology by teaching students how to diagnose mental and emotional disorders in a variety of situations.

Throughout their years of education, students study personality development, the history of psychological problems, and the science of psychological research.

The Role Of A Psychiatrist
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are dedicated to providing the best treatment and care for people with mental disorders.

Because psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they are able to prescribe medications. They spend a significant portion of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment. Medication in psychiatry is used when counseling and therapy fail to produce noticeable results.

As doctors, psychiatrists understand the ins and outs of the body as well as the mind. Their training - four years of medical school followed by four years of psychiatric residency - allows them to diagnose basic and complex psychiatric conditions which include: psychosis; affective disorders; anxiety disorders; and behavioural disorders.

They are also able to deliver psychotherapy, and to administer somatic therapies. Some psychiatrists specialize in liaison psychiatry, childhood and adolescent psychiatry, or forensic psychiatry.

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Psychiatrists are also known as:
Mental Health Physician Mental Disorder Physician Child Psychiatrist Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Mental Health Professional