The field of psychiatry is more than 175 years old yet still faces challenges in serving society. That’s not surprising, since mental health issues can be difficult to discuss. It can be intimidating for someone to lay bare their fears and anxieties to someone else, even if it’s a professional who is trained to help. 

Media portrayals of mental health issues can complicate the process, cluttering our view with stereotypes and images that might prevent people from seeking help. Psychiatrists seek to break through that clutter, offering guidance and treatment from a medical perspective that has proven to help.

The psychiatry definition is simple: It is a branch of medicine devoted to diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychiatry has grown and adapted since its initial founding but remains centered on study and care at its core. 

In this article, we’ll address a few questions you might have: 

  • What is a psychiatrist? 
  • What does a psychiatrist do? 
  • How can a psychiatrist help me?

We’ll walk through various forms of psychiatric treatment and provide several considerations when making an appointment. When you’re ready to get started, consider scheduling an appointment with an online psychiatrist at Thriveworks.

What Is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical professional who specializes in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders. As medical doctors, psychiatrists are different from other mental health professionals, such as psychologists, who hold PhDs but do not go to medical school. Psychiatrists can assess both your psychological and physical symptoms and can prescribe medications to treat mental health disorders.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 45,000 psychiatrists practice in the United States. They work in hospital emergency rooms, university medical centers, and nursing homes. They also work in community centers, prisons, and the military. Schools and governments employ psychiatrists, as do commercial enterprises. About half of all psychiatrists maintain a private practice, according to the APA, though many carry their work into multiple settings.

Psychiatrists perform a common and needed function in society. Before assuming that role, they must go through a demanding education and training process in order to begin seeing clients.

The Education and Training Required to Become a Psychiatrist

The process of becoming a psychiatrist is long and comprehensive, exposing those in training to a range of studies and situations. Further, psychiatrists pledge themselves to a career of continuing education to learn new treatment options and stay abreast of the latest advancements in medication.

Typically, psychiatrists require eight post-undergraduate years of study and training before they can become certified. After college, psychiatrists-in-training attend medical school; following those four years, they begin a residency program that also lasts four years.

During their residencies, psychiatrists will work in a hospital setting where they will see a variety of clients and disorders. From there, the residency training continues to focus on diagnosis and treatment. Residents learn how to conduct psychotherapy, how to prescribe medications, and how to combine those forms of treatment. As they progress in their residencies, psychiatrists-in-training can pursue specialty areas of study. 

The last step toward becoming a practicing psychiatrist involves certification. Having completed an approved training program and been evaluated for competency, psychiatrists-in-training take a written and oral exam administered by the American Board of Psychology and Neurology. Upon passing this exam, students are considered ABPM “diplomates,” also known as “board-certified” psychiatrists. 

Certification is voluntary but acquiring one indicates that the psychiatrist meets a national standard for skills and experience. To maintain this standing, psychiatrists must recertify every 10 years.

What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

After studying mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders for so many years, psychiatrists have three primary duties: to diagnose, treat, and prevent them. As medical doctors, psychiatrists have the training required to understand the complex relationship between the body and mind. They can assess symptoms that clients present from both a mental and physical perspective.

Psychiatrists begin with the diagnostic process, through which they will get to know a client’s symptoms. For instance, consider a client who is suffering from headaches, sleeplessness, and stomach pains. A psychiatrist can perform physical, lab, and psychological tests to begin determining whether the symptoms have physical or mental roots.

Further, psychiatrists can monitor the relationship between mental and physical health by tracking blood pressure, weight changes, and other physical conditions. Psychiatrists also work with primary care physicians, and perhaps other mental health professionals, to determine appropriate treatment methods.

Psychiatrists employ a variety of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, methods to understand a client’s symptoms and stresses. Through talk therapy, clients are encouraged to be open about their issues, which often leads to clearer diagnoses and more successful outcomes.

Psychiatrists use several forms of talk therapy that apply different methods and lengths of treatment. Psychiatrists might employ one or more types of therapy with a client, depending on their needs. 

These are a few common forms of talk therapy:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to help people change behavior patterns that are inefficient or might even cause harm. It is considered a “goal-oriented” form of therapy that helps people learn to solve problems. 
  • Supportive therapy seeks to build self-esteem through encouragement and positive thinking. Clients who undergo supportive therapy can learn to cope with anxiety and feel more comfortable around other people.
  • Psychoanalysis is an intensive form of therapy that centers on what thoughts might be behind the symptoms. To change behaviors and feelings that cause issues, psychiatrists can use psychoanalysis to explore their unconscious roots. These feelings might stem from childhood, a repressed trauma, or another source the client can’t fully explain.
  • Interpersonal therapy helps give clients the tools to express emotions in a healthy way and relate better with other people.

Psychotherapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for mental health disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 75 percent of those who begin psychotherapy show some progress. Further, those who undergo psychotherapy leave treatment feeling better than most of those who don’t.

Medication is another form of treatment often used in psychiatric treatment, either by itself or in tandem with other types of therapy. Since they can prescribe medications, psychiatrists often receive referrals from psychologists who cannot, especially for complex psychological issues that might require a prescription. 

Psychiatrists can prescribe different classes of medication depending on the treatment plan. Antidepressants, for example, are sometimes used in tandem with talk therapy to treat conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mood stabilizers are sometimes used as part of a bipolar disorder treatment plan. People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are sometimes prescribed stimulants to help increase alertness and attention.

Psychiatrists prescribe medications for mental health disorders just as a primary care physician would for high cholesterol or blood pressure. They monitor for dosage and side effects and consider conflicts with other medications that clients might be taking. 

Depending on the challenges clients face, psychiatrists might use other treatment methods as well. One is electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, which is administered primarily in psychiatric hospitals. According to Mental Health America, about 100,000 people per year receive ECT treatment, through which electric impulses stimulate the brain. ECT is sometimes used to treat clients with severe depression or other acute conditions.

How Can a Psychiatrist Help Me?

Psychiatrists can help all types of people, not just those whose symptoms are considered the most severe. They treat complex mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorders. They help people who have had thoughts of suicide or self-harm, are experiencing hallucinations, or are suffering from insomnia and PTSD. 

However, people might also seek a psychiatrist’s help because they have felt sad, hopeless, or anxious for a long time. Perhaps they face addiction issues, have body image issues, or simply feel weak and listless. There are many reasons that might prompt someone to consider seeing a psychiatrist, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • ADD or ADHD
  • Addicting behaviors
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Learning disabilities
  • Personality disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

In addition, many psychiatrists specialize in a particular field of study. These can include child psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, addiction treatment, and more. For people seeking a specific form of treatment, it might be worth finding a psychiatrist who specializes in that field.

Work With a Psychiatrist at Thriveworks

Mental health is just as important as our physical well-being. Yet all too often people ignore their mental health. They put it off, hoping the symptoms will improve or they find the prospect of discussing sensitive personal topics daunting. Perhaps they’re unable to schedule time for an appointment or feel uncomfortable meeting with a psychiatrist in an office environment.

At Thriveworks, we can help in all of these cases.

Thriveworks offers psychiatric care remotely to support clients at their needs and comfort level. Online psychiatry works similarly to an in-person session: You meet with a psychiatrist to discuss your concerns and seek solutions. The sessions merely are conducted via phone or video, from the comfort of your home or wherever you have a good internet or cell phone connection.

With online psychiatry, you are in control of your treatment plan. An hour-long session requires only an hour of your time, freeing you from the hassle and disruption of commuting to an in-person therapy appointment. Many clients find online therapy more practical for their schedules and a better forum for speaking freely.

At Thriveworks, we accept many insurance plans and offer clients a number of benefits, including: 

  • Access to life coaching via our Q&A “Dear Abby” service
  • App-based billing and scheduling support
  • The Therapy Buddy app to supplement your appointments

If you’re thinking of seeing a psychiatrist, call or click today for an online psychiatry appointment at Thriveworks.