Psychiatry is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment as well as prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health, including substance use disorders. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems. People seek psychiatric help for numerous reasons. The problems can be sudden, such as a panic attack, frightening hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, or hearing "voices." Or they may be more long-term, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, depression, or anxiousness that never seem to lift or problems functioning, causing everyday life to feel distorted or out of control.
What does a psychiatrist do?
Psychiatrists assess all of your mental and physical symptoms. They make a diagnosis and work with you very thoroughly to develop a plan for your treatment and recovery. Psychiatrists provide psychological treatment, prescribe medications and even do some procedures.
As part of their work, a psychiatrist can:
- provide urgent care for a sudden mental illness
- help you to manage a long-term mental health condition
- provide advice about lifestyle changes
- work with you individually, or with you and your partner
- refer you to other health professionals
Types of Psychiatrists
There are a number of different specialty areas in psychiatry. Some different types of specialized psychiatrists include:
- Addiction psychiatrist: Works with people who have addiction and some substance abuse issues
- Adult psychiatrist: Works with adults experiencing mental illness or psychological problems
- Adolescent and child psychiatrist: Works with children and teens
- Forensic psychiatrist: Works in the courts and criminal justice system
- Geriatric psychiatrist: Works with elderly populations
- Neuropsychiatrist: Treats mental disorders associated with nervous system problems, brain diseases, and brain injuries
- Organizational psychiatrist: Practices psychiatry in workplace and organizational settings
Career Outlook and Salary
Overall employment for physicians and surgeons, which includes psychiatrists, is expected to increase 14% by 2024. The anticipated growth is due to the expansion of healthcare services and the growing number of elderly citizens. Some growth might be tempered by new medical technology. In May 2015, the BLS reported that psychiatrists earned a mean annual wage of $193,680.
Where do psychiatrists work?
Psychiatrists work in public and private hospitals, community mental health services and in private consulting rooms. Psychiatrists are very often involved in research, providing advice in legal matters, teaching and advocacy work. This means they also work in government departments, research centers and universities. Many psychiatrists take on a few different roles at the same time. They might spend part of their time at a public hospital and the rest seeing patients at their own private practice.
While there aren't bachelor's degree programs specific to psychiatry, students must complete pre-medical coursework, which includes courses in physics, biology and chemistry. Many schools offer pre-medical programs that guide students through medical school prerequisites; however, students must still choose a major. Prospective psychiatrists then need significant graduate-level training, which includes four years of medical school followed by four years of residency training in psychiatry.
Psychiatrists who want to specialize in a particular area, such as child, geriatric or addiction psychiatry will have to undergo fellowship training after completing the residencies. Fellowships typically last two years and give individuals greater freedom to pursue research and gain clinical experience in their chosen specialties. Students might consider selecting medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) since graduating from an accredited program is a prerequisite for residencies and most state medical licenses.
If you're looking for the services of a psychiatrist, the best place to start is to get a recommendation from your own primary care physician. Other options include contacting local mental health clinics, psychiatric organizations, universities, and hospitals for a referral.