Things To Be Wary Of Before Pursuing A Psychiatrist Career

By: Sarah Fader

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

What Is Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is a specific field of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors whether they're MD's or DO's, and they're qualified to assess and diagnose patients. There are many reasons that an individual may consult or regularly see a psychiatrist. Maybe they have a mental health condition such as depression, generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, BPD, or PTSD.

Perhaps, they're experiencing hallucinations or persistent insomnia. There is a wide range of reasons that a person might benefit from psychiatric medication. Prescribing medication is not all that a psychiatrist does. However, they are the best person to see for medication management. For those with mental health conditions, seeing a psychiatrist in addition to a therapist or counselor is an optimal solution when it comes to managing their condition and overall wellness. Several studies show the efficacy of adding medication to therapy for those living with a mental health condition. Combined treatment has been proven to be the most effective route to take, making psychiatry a critical and life-changing field.


Diagnosing Individuals

As we've established, psychiatrists are medical doctors. With their credentials, they can perform a variety of tests and assessments that assist them in diagnosing individuals. They're able to determine an individual's unique struggles and mental state so that they can establish the best treatment plan for each person that they take on as a client. The most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used by psychiatrists to diagnose individuals and determine if they meet the criteria for a specific disorder.

Being A Mandated Reporter And Choosing Your Specialty

If you're pursuing a career in psychiatry, you need to remember that there are various populations that you could be treating. You want to make sure that you go into this with realistic expectations. You could be treating someone with mild anxiety or severe anxiety. You may be seeing clients with severe depressive episodes. Remember the people that you see may range in terms of functionality. If someone is severely depressed, they might have a tendency toward suicidal ideation. Be prepared to make a difficult call to get an unsafe patient to a higher level of care. It's essential to keep in mind that if you're pursuing a career as a psychiatrist, this may be a very real situation that you encounter.

When seeking a psychiatrist career, you're sometimes able to decide what population you work with, which often depends on the availability of positions and the need in your area. It could be that you choose to specialize in anxiety disorders, for example, or personality disorders. You may also decide to work with a specific age group, such as children and teenagers. It may also be that you don't necessarily have a specialty and you work with an extensive range of people and diagnoses. It's vital to remember that regardless of who you work with as a psychiatrist, you will be a mandated reporter. This responsibility can be rather stressful, but reporting is mandatory out of necessity; you will be touching and saving many lives.

Treatments That Psychiatrists Use On Patients

Psychiatrists will, after assessing a person, be able to treat them using a variety of methods and tools. This could be medication, a psychosocial intervention, or, depending on the situation, it could be a less common form of treatment such as electroshock therapy. Seeing a therapist or counselor in addition to a psychiatrist is common. Some psychiatrists also perform talk therapy themselves. Medication management consultations tend to be shorter than sessions for both medication and therapy. Let's say that you're seeing a client that has depression. In this circumstance, you're monitoring their medication and making sure that they're safe. Your sessions will be much shorter and less frequent than those where you're providing therapy. A crucial thing to remember as a psychiatrist is that different medications and other forms of treatment will work for different people.


Different medication classes, as well as each different medication, come with a unique set of side effects. Each person will react to those potential side effects differently. One might experience no adverse effects from a medication, while another person experiences a high volume of side effects. Some psychiatrists use genetic testing to determine the efficacy of different drugs. They believe it can be useful in deciding what medicine to prescribe a client.

Medication Classes

To treat clients, here are some of the medication classes that it's important to understand:


Antidepressants are effective in treating depression and other mood disorders. Those include anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or OCD. These medications also assist people with other conditions such as BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). Antidepressants range from SSRI's to SNRI's, and people will respond differently to each class of medication depending on who they are. SSRIs act on serotonin, whereas SNRIs act on norepinephrine, and they can impact people in dramatically different ways. Some examples of SSRIs include Celexa, Prozac, and Zoloft, and some examples of SNRIs include Cymbalta, Effexor, and Pristiq.


Antipsychotics can treat disorders such as Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia. They're effective in treating hallucinations and psychotic episodes. Examples of antipsychotics include Seroquel, Zyprexa, and Latuda.


Stimulants are typically used to treat those with ADHD. Examples of stimulants include Adderall and Ritalin.

Depending on each unique client, a psychiatrist might prescribe one of these medications or a combination of these medications to treat them. In the case that someone needs a combination of medicines, a person might have multiple diagnoses. For example, someone could have BPD as well as OCD, so they may take two classes of medication to treat both conditions. It could also be that someone only has an anxiety disorder but needs two classes of medication (such as an antidepressant and a benzodiazepine) to combat their symptoms efficiently.

Psychiatric Training And What It Takes To Become A Psychiatrist

To become a psychiatrist, you have to attend medical school and complete a residency in psychiatric medicine. During this time, you could be working in a hospital or another setting where you interact with those who have a variety of mental disorders, and you will be under careful supervision. You could be working in an inpatient facility, with outpatient clients, or in an emergency room setting. In any case, you'll require, in addition to this residency, three more years of training at the minimum. After you complete your residency, you need to pass a couple of exams to become a board-certified psychiatrist. These include a written exam and an oral exam. You need to be re-certified for this position every 10 years.


As mentioned before, you may be working with specific populations or in specific disciplines of psychiatry. As an example, here are some areas that you could pursue: addiction psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, adult psychiatry, or child and adolescent psychiatry. Should you decide to provide psychotherapy in addition to psychiatry, you can complete training for that as well.

Places Psychiatrists Work

You can find psychiatrists in a multitude of settings where people work with mental health issues. Psychiatrists may work in a hospital setting, private practice, in nursing homes, in university settings, or prison settings to maintain the mental health of prisoners. They may also work in rehabilitation centers or similar facilities. It's common to find psychiatrists in private practice settings as well as low-cost clinics. Psychiatry is a field that's in high demand, but as with almost any career, it's important to remember that you're competing with other people in your area.

Accepting Insurance

If you choose to take insurance as a provider, you will spend hours doing paperwork and working with insurance companies. It can be a massive hassle, which is why many psychiatrists in private practice settings choose not to take insurance. It's not out of heartlessness; instead, it's due to wanting to spend more time with clients and not jump through additional hoops. That said, if you're going to broaden the population of clients that you work with, you will do well to take insurance because it makes care more accessible. There are upsides and downsides to either choice.

Burnout Is Real

In the helping professions, burnout is a real issue, and it's important to create a work-life balance. Try not to take your work home with you. Remember you're treating patients in your office, the clinic, or wherever you're practicing psychiatric medicine. Once you go home, it's time to let loose and focus on decompressing. It's crucial to do this for your mental health. You spend a lot of time treating others, and now it's time to care for yourself. It's essential to not take your mental health care work home with you so you can minimize the risk of burnout. A work-life balance is integral to happiness. People who push themselves in the field are at risk of hurting their mental health. When you're practicing psychiatry, be mindful of the high rate of burnout in the area, and take care of you first so you can be a great provider.

Psychiatry Is Not Just About Medicine. It's About People.

Remember that when you're prescribing medicine, you're treating mental illness or mental health condition; however, you are also looking at a human being. They're not a walking-diagnosis. They're a whole human being who has life stressors, a family, friends, and a rich collection of experiences. They are looking to you to receive the support they need to function in today's world.


Help For Helpers

Remember that your mental health as psychiatrist matters. You're always busy helping others, but we need to help ourselves first. You may be so busy that it's hard to get out of the office to see a therapist. One viable option is online therapy. Online therapy is an excellent flexible option for busy mental health professionals who care about their wellbeing, like you! You will be a better provider when you care for your mind. BetterHelp has a vast selection of qualified, seasoned online therapists who are ready to support you. Helpers like you need and deserve mental health care, and BetterHelp can deliver that care. Search the network of experienced professionals here and choose one who works for your needs.

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