What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) who completed medical school and received additional training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental and emotional disorders.

Because of extensive medical training, a psychiatrist understands the body’s functions and the complex relationship between emotional illness and other medical illness.  A psychiatrist is the mental health professional and physician best qualified to distinguish between physical and psychological causes of both mental and physical distress. 

Conditions that may be treated by a psychiatrist include the following:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders
  • Alcoholism and substance abuse

Treatments Offered by Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists use a wide variety of treatments according to the needs of each patient. These may include the following:

  • Psychotherapy of various forms
  • Medications, including antidepressants or anti-psychotics.
  • Hospitalization

Psychotherapy is a systematic treatment method in which, during regularly scheduled meetings, the psychiatrist and patient discuss troubling problems and feelings. The psychiatrists helps patients understand the basis of these problems and find solutions. Depending on the extent of the problem, treatment may take just a few sessions over one or two weeks, or many sessions over several years.

Psychiatrists use many forms of psychotherapy. There are psychotherapies that help patients change behaviors or thought patterns, psychotherapies that help patients explore the effect of past relationships and experiences on present behaviors, psychotherapies that treat troubled couples or families together, and more treatments that are tailored to help solve other problems in specific ways.

Psychoanalysis is an intensive form of individual psychotherapy which requires frequent sessions over several years. The psychiatrist, who must have additional years of training in psychoanalysis, helps the patient to recall and examine events, memories, and feelings from the past, many of them long forgotten, as a means of helping the patient understand present feelings and behavior and make positive changes.

Medical Training of Psychiatrists

After graduation from medical school, psychiatrists complete a year of medical internship taking care of patients with a wide range of medical illnesses. He or she then spends at least 3 additional years in an accredited psychiatry residency program. This residency training provides in-depth experience in various forms of psychotherapy and in the proper use of various psychiatric medications and other mental health treatments.

Psychiatrists must pass an examination administered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Physicians who pass the examination are granted board certification.

Some psychiatrists may pursue additional subspecialty training in the following fields:

  • Addiction Psychiatry
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Geriatric Psychiatry
  • Psychosomatic Medicine

Professional Psychiatry Organizations

The mission of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is to serve the public interest and the professions of psychiatry and neurology by promoting excellence in practice through certification and maintenance of certification processes. Methods for achieving that goal include efforts to describe, in terms of knowledge and skills, a physician with special expertise in evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with psychiatric and/or neurologic disorders or who require psychiatric and/or neurologic assessment; set the standards for knowledge and skills required for certification; construct and administer examinations designed to evaluate required knowledge and skills; monitor, evaluate, and improve the standards and procedures of the certification process.

The American Psychiatric Association is a medical specialty society recognized world-wide. Its over 38,000 U.S. and international member physicians work together to ensure humane care and effective treatment for all persons with mental disorder, including mental retardation and substance-related disorders. It is the voice and conscience of modern psychiatry. Its vision is a society that has available, accessible quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.

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Last updated: 1/8/2019