A psychiatrist can diagnose and treat a wide range of mental health conditions.
Psychiatrists primarily use medication to treat symptoms of mental health conditions, but they may also use different types of psychotherapy.
Some psychiatrists specialize in a specific area of psychiatry, such as addiction or forensic psychiatry.
Here, we look at the differences between a psychiatrist, psychologist, and therapist. We also explain what conditions a psychiatrist treats.
What is a psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health. A psychiatrist understands both physical and mental health conditions, and they will consider the links between them.
Psychiatrists must train at medical school before training in psychiatry.
A psychiatrist can diagnose and prescribe medication to treat a variety of complex mental illnesses, such as:
- borderline personality disorder
- bipolar disorder
How they differ from psychologists and therapists
Psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists are all healthcare professionals who help treat mental health conditions.
The main difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is medical training. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has additional training in psychiatry.
In most states in the United States, only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication for mental health conditions. In some states, a psychologist may be able to prescribe certain medication after completing additional training.
Psychologists can use different types of psychotherapy to help treat mental health conditions. For example, a technique called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people change their thought patterns and behaviors to improve how they feel.
Other types of talk therapy include psychodynamic therapy. This therapy may require the client to discuss how their past experiences influence the present, which can lead to greater insight into their current symptoms or feelings.
A clinical psychologist is a type of psychotherapist who has received their doctorate in clinical psychology. If they have “Dr.” as their title and have a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. (rather than M.D.) after their name, this indicates that they do not have a qualification in medicine. Psychologists can conduct assessments, as well as psychotherapy.
Psychologists may see people for mental health conditions and symptoms such as:
- behavioral issues
- assessment of learning difficulties
Psychiatrists and psychologists often work alongside each other to treat mental health conditions. Both healthcare professionals may work in a mental health team at a hospital or community mental health clinic.
A psychiatrist may also make an initial diagnosis before referring a person for ongoing treatment with a psychologist or particular therapist.
Other types of psychotherapists, often called therapists, may also use psychotherapy to treat mental and emotional health conditions. These professionals can include, for example, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), marriage and family therapists (MFTs), and licensed professional counselors (LPCs). These psychotherapists are at the masters level of education and require a particular license.
A psychotherapist may use a variety of techniques to treat people, or they might specialize in one particular area. For example, different types of therapy include:
- couples and family therapy
- animal-assisted therapy, in which animals, such as dogs and horses, assist treatment
- creative arts therapy, which may use art, dance, drama, or music
- play therapy, which can encourage children to talk and express themselves through pretend play
What conditions do they treat?
A psychiatrist treats mental health conditions, which can include:
- bipolar disorder
- eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- insomnia and sleeping problems
- addiction, including to gambling, drugs, alcohol, and certain behaviors
- suicidal thoughts
- obsessional thoughts
- violent outbursts
- thoughts of hurting others
- feeling constantly on edge, agitated, or unable to relax
- negative thinking
- inability to concentrate
- body image issues
- delusional thinking
- severe stress, worry, or anxiety
- memory problems
- neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Types of psychiatrists
A psychiatrist may have a particular area of expertise. Subcategories of psychiatry include:
- child and adolescent psychiatry
- young adult psychiatry
- perinatal psychiatry, which focuses on issues that arise during pregnancy and the first antenatal year
- geriatric psychiatry, focusing only on older adults
- addiction psychiatry
- forensic psychiatry, which addresses mental health within the legal system and works with people on trial and those with a criminal record
To become a psychiatrist in the U.S., a person must first train for 4 years at medical school. Once they have successfully passed the final written examination, they will receive a license to practice medicine.
After medical training, the individual will then need to train for 4 years in a psychiatry residency.
For the first year, trainee psychiatrists will usually work in a hospital setting, treating a variety of mental illnesses. Training will include inpatient, outpatient, and emergency room situations.
Over the next 3 years, the person will learn how to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. They will learn a wide range of treatment methods, including psychotherapy and psychiatric medicine.
Some psychiatrists may then choose to take on further training to become a specialist in a particular area of psychiatry.
To become a board certified psychiatrist, it is necessary to complete a written and oral examination from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Every psychiatrist must go through recertification every 10 years.
Although it is voluntary to become board certified, obtaining this extra qualification indicates that a psychiatrist has had additional training and examination. It also shows that the psychiatrist meets national standards of education, experience, and skills.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can diagnose and treat a wide range of mental illnesses. These can include depression, eating disorders, insomnia, and bipolar disorder.
Psychiatrists also treat particular symptoms, such as anxiety or suicidal thoughts.
A psychiatrist often uses prescription medication to address symptoms, and they may collaborate with psychotherapists to create an overall treatment plan.
Psychologists and therapists are not medical doctors. Psychologists conduct assessments and use psychotherapy to help treat mental health conditions.
Psychotherapists may use a range of treatments, including talk therapy, creative arts therapy, and play therapy. Some therapy can occur in a group setting, as well as in individual therapy.
The type of treatment that people need depends on their individual condition. Anyone who is unsure whether they require a psychiatrist or another mental health professional should speak to their doctor.