Specialty Overview

A psychiatrist specializes in the evaluation and treatment of mental, addictive, and emotional disorders such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substancerelated disorders, sexual and gender identity disorders, and adjustment disorders.

Specialty training required prior to certification: Four years

Specialty Description

A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses and emotional problems. Because of extensive medical training, the psychiatrist understands the body’s functions and the complex relationship between emotional illness and other medical illness. The psychiatrist is best qualified to distinguish between physical and psychological causes of both mental and physical distress, and serves as the medical expert for the mind/ brain/body interface. Psychiatrists use a wide variety of treatments, including various forms of psychotherapy, medications and hospitalization, according to the needs of each patient.

Psychotherapy is a systematic treatment method  in which, during regularly scheduled meetings, the psychiatrist and patient discuss troubling problems and feelings. Depending on the extent of the problem, treatment may take only a few sessions over one or two weeks, or many sessions over several years.

There are many forms of psychotherapies that help patients change behaviors or thought patterns, help patients explore the effect of past relationships and experiences on present behaviors, or treat troubled couples or families, and more treatments that are tailored to help solve other problems in specific ways.

Psychiatry is one of the oldest medical specialties, but it is also one of the most exciting frontiers of medicine. Recent advances in the neurosciences have led to new technologies in the diagnosis and treatment of many psychiatric illnesses. For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), brain imaging and new pharmaceuticals have significantly improved the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric illnesses.

The average psychiatrist spends approximately 48 hours each week at work. Most psychiatrists spend 60 percent of their time with patients. Two- thirds of these patients are seen as outpatients, with the rest seen in a hospital setting or, increasingly, in partial hospitalization or day programs and community residential programs. Psychiatric hospitalization is now more intense, more focused and much shorter in duration than in previous years. Additional professional activities include administration, teaching, consultation and research.

Psychiatrists work in group or private practice. They also practice in the public sector, such as the veterans Administration, state hospitals and community mental health centers that are unique to psychiatry.

The education and training requirements for psychiatry are set by the ACGME and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Physicians who pass the examination are granted board certification, which is a prerequisite to subspecialty certification.

Because of a continued shortage in the field, psychiatrists have many career opportunities. Practitioners set their own work and time commitments according to their personal lifestyles and needs. They work in a variety of settings including general and psychiatric hospitals, university medical centers, community agencies, courts and prisons, nursing homes, industry, government, military settings, schools, rehabilitation programs, emergency rooms and hospices.

The hallmark of a psychiatrist’s career is diversity and flexibility. Although some psychiatrists prefer working only in one setting, others work in several areas, combining, for instance, a private practice with hospital or community mental health center work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for a psychiatrist is $174,170.

Related Training

Association

American Psychiatric Association
1000 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209
psych.org