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A psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor that specializes in mental illness and the mind. Psychiatrists study the medical, psychological, and social components of mental disorders. As physicians, psychiatrists are capable of working closely with other doctors, such as primary care providers or other physicians in a hospital setting.

How are psychiatrists trained?

In order to be a psychiatrist, an individual must attend medical school for four years and must pass a two-part exam. Two of those fours years involve intensive classroom training as well as learning fundamental techniques for clinical treatment. During the last two years of medical school, students go on clinical rotations where they get hands-on experience treating patients from various specialties in a hospital setting. After completing their medical school training, doctors choose a residency program in their desired specialty.

During this residency, psychiatrists-in-training work with attending psychiatrists and are trained in how to diagnose and treat mental health, in different forms of psychotherapy, and they gain skills in the use of psychiatric medications.

After the completion of residency programs, most psychiatrists opt to take a board certification exam through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. In order to stay board certified, psychiatrists must complete continued medication education and peer/self-review and take a re-certification exam approximately every 10 years.

What do psychiatrists do?

Psychiatrists treat mental health issues through a combination of psychotherapy and medication. While some issues are symptoms of an underlying diagnosis (such as Bipolar Disorder or ADHD), psychiatrists also work with mental health issues that are not the result of a particular disorder. Family or relationship issues, grief, motivation and many of the problems the vast majority of clients face can be worked through with a psychiatrist, even if there is no diagnosis of a mental health issue.

Psychotherapy is one of the ways in which a psychiatrist can assess and treat a patient. They can also prescribe medication to a patient if appropriate. Some disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression, are more likely to be treated with medications than others. If a patient also has an underlying health issue, a psychiatrist will have been trained to know how they will react to a drug.

What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Unlike a psychiatrist, psychologists don’t hold a medical degree. If fully licensed, they’ve obtained a PhD or PsyD in clinical psychology where they are able to treat mental and emotional disorders with various forms of therapy. Since psychiatrists hold an MD degree, they are also able to treat mental disorders with medication when appropriate.

Should I see a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

If you’re looking for talk therapy, both a psychiatrist and psychologist are likely to serve you equally well. Different mental health issues often require different treatment strategies. Some disorders are best treated by a psychiatrist who is able to prescribe medication (e.g. bipolar disorder or ADHD), while others may be best served by a psychologist who has advanced training with specific issues (e.g. phobias or relationship issues).

Because psychiatrists are also physicians, they are better suited in dealing with the complicated interaction of physical and mental health. For instance, some medical conditions such as thyroid problems can produce mood and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, psychiatrists can be particularly helpful when mental health problems manifest as physical symptoms. Psychiatrists are also trained in interfacing with other health professionals, like primary care providers, when treating these issues.

For more general issues like depression or anxiety, many of our patients may simply seek out the clinician whose style and personality is most suitable for their own tastes.

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