What is a Psychiatrist?
Table of Contents
- What is a Psychiatrist?
- What does a Psychiatrist do?
- How to Become a Psychiatrist
- What is the workplace of a Psychiatrist like?
- What are good qualities for a psychiatrist to have?
- What is it like being a psychiatrist?
- What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
- Further Reading
- Similar Careers
Psychiatry is a medical specialty that involves the treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
Contrary to popular belief, psychiatrists don't treat only people who are called "crazy" or "insane." This is a misconception and a distortion of the truth because people who suffer from delusions or hallucinations form only a fraction of psychiatric patients. In fact, many people have borderline or temporary psychiatric conditions that may be effectively treated, resulting in full recovery of the patient.
How to Become a Psychiatrist
What does a Psychiatrist do?
Although the location of the problem is the brain, unlike neurologists, psychiatrists do not treat organic or structural disorders such as epilepsy, consequences of strokes or brain cancers. However, these disorders may also cause psychiatric symptoms and mental alteration in certain patients, which requires the ability to make a differential diagnosis and apply correct treatment. Psychiatrists need to have an excellent understanding of basic psychology and must possess psychotherapy skills to attempt to influence the patient's disorder with less medication. In fact, many psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and certain phobias may be effectively treated through psychotherapy. Medication in psychiatry is used only when counselling and therapy fail to produce noticeable results.
Psychiatrists are doctors who are dedicated to providing the best treatment and care for mental disorders with compassion and patience. They must have excellent communication skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence to understand the patient's emotional and mental problems and formulate the best course of action for their treatment. Unlike other fields of medicine, the treatment regimen in psychiatry may change significantly depending on the patient's response to medication or psychotherapy. 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.
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, and does not require medication in all cases.
Mild depression may be a transient condition, and may be the result of emotional trauma and tragic events in the patient's life. Psychiatrists must be able to identify early signs of depression and find its roots, and then apply psychotherapy techniques and potentially antidepressants to treat the patient. Anxiety disorders are another common category of mental disorders that are addressed by psychiatrists. They 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. 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 his or her mental disorder.
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How to Become a Psychiatrist
Becoming a psychiatrist requires a passion for helping people and having the necessary patience to evaluate each individual, even when he or she may not be eager to cooperate due to stress or severe mental symptoms. Psychiatrists may deal with people who come from all backgrounds and have various financial, emotional or social problems that may aggravate their mental disorder. The doctor must identify these factors and try to eliminate them before proceeding to the actual treatment. Psychiatrists must have the ability to cope with stress and remain calm in difficult situations because 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.
People who aspire to become psychiatrists have to graduate from medical school. Then they must enroll in a residency program in psychiatry and, upon successful completion, become Board Certified by taking an exam. The duration of residency in psychiatry varies depending on the country, but it may take between four and six years.
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. Primary care units and emergency departments usually don't have psychiatrists because 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 may also work part-time in prisons or other correctional facilities.
It's good for a psychiatrist to think of a patient in a holistic way, and to ask the patient about diet, exercise, sleep, relationships, support systems, and different stressors in their life in order to make an informed assessment and a proper evaluation.
It is also important for the psychiatrist to possess some degree of humility when speaking to the patient, even admitting to not knowing something if that is the case, and telling the patient that he will look into the matter. This shows a partnership and a collaboration with the patient, which will produce more success in the end.
It also goes without saying that a psychiatrist needs to be able to really listen to his/her client, and convey authentic concern, always being respectful of the patient's feelings.
A student will typically get into the field of psychiatry because it is almost like a calling to them. Psychiatry can be quite stressful sometimes, especially if one chooses to work with more acutely ill patients. But for the most part, the culture 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 will tend to have a longterm relationship with their psychiatrist. Therefore, a psychiatrist needs to be patient and have a relaxed attitude, knowing that he or she will be having a long, intense relationship with the patient.
There are many choices of career paths within the psychiatric field, so one can choose a calm, predictable outpatient practice, or a busy acute inpatient unit or ER. One can construct a schedule as busy or as calm as one may like.
Both psychiatrists and psychologists conduct psychotherapy and research, but there are significant differences between the two professions.
The first difference is in education: a psychiatrist has a degree in medicine, and is a medical doctor, whereas the psychologist has a degree (a masters or a doctorate) in psychology. The second difference is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication, whereas a psychologist cannot.
If you are trying to choose between the two careers, you will need to determine if you would prefer to assess, diagnose, treat and prevent mental illness and be able to prescribe medications to your patients (psychiatrist), or if you would prefer to conduct psychotherapy, administer psychological tests, and conduct research (a psychologist).
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