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Understanding What Your Psychiatrist Does

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Updated April 09, 2009

What Is a Psychiatrist - Overview:

Many people with phobias see a psychiatrist at least occasionally. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has undergone specialized training in mental health. Some clients see a psychiatrist exclusively, for both medication management and therapy. Others visit a psychiatrist solely for medications, and use other treatment team members for counseling. Here is an overview of what to expect from your psychiatrist.

Education and Training:

Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and have completed a traditional 4-year medical program after college. In addition, they must complete a psychiatric residency which, in the United States, is at least four years long. Therefore, a psychiatrist in the U.S. has at least eight years of post-graduate training. Some psychiatrists undergo additional specialized training in psychoanalysis or other fields of study. Many psychiatrists choose to take an optional exam at the end of their training that allows them to become board certified.

Approach:

As a general rule, psychiatrists follow the medical model. They may order tests such as MRIs and CT scans to develop a comprehensive understanding of a client’s brain structure. They may also prescribe psychiatric medications in conjunction with talk therapy.

Of course, the precise approach varies from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, and is customized for each client. Some psychiatrists favor theories such as behaviorism or cognitivism, while others use a more eclectic approach. The treatment that you receive from your psychiatrist may be very different than a friend’s treatment from another psychiatrist.

Specialties:

Many psychiatrists choose to specialize in a particular field of interest. Child psychiatry, military psychiatry, and emergency psychiatry are just a few possible specialties. Some psychiatrists focus on research, while others work exclusively with clients in a community mental health setting.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. “What Is a Psychiatrist?” http://www.healthyminds.org/whatisapsychiatrist.cfm

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