Psychiatry is a specific branch of medicine focusing on diagnosing mental illness, substance use challenges, and mental health concerns. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with an MD or DO. They can prescribe psychiatric medications for mental health conditions and provide clients with medication management. In some cases, psychiatrists offer psychotherapy.
This category page offers articles about psychiatry, what psychiatrists treat, and how this profession may support clients with mental health challenges. You can find reasons to consider seeing a psychiatrist and how it might benefit you.
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Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Psychiatry is a field dedicated to diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. A psychiatrist examines each client and conducts a series of evaluations to determine what mental health challenges or mental illnesses they may be living with. They often use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) to perform diagnosis. The DSM-5 was published in 2013 and is the most up-to-date diagnostic manual.
The word psyche derives from the ancient Greek word "soul." German physician Johann Christian Reil created the term "psychiatry” in 1808 to mean “medical treatment of the soul.” The suffix “try” means "medical treatment" and comes from the Greek word iātrikos, meaning "medical treatment" or "healing."
A psychiatrist is a doctor who specializes in treating people with mental health disorders. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine where providers use evidence-based research to solve challenges related to human behavior. Those specializing in psychiatry are experienced in social and biological sciences and are medical doctors.
Below are some of the most common psychiatric approaches that a psychiatrist may take. However, each professional is unique; some specialize in a specific condition or symptom.
The biomedical model of psychiatry focuses on helping clients manage a mental health condition through biochemical methods, such as medicine. Medicine is often a temporary solution while clients attend therapy, but it can also be used in the long term. The biomedical model helps people feel healthier and cope with daily life. The biomedical model focuses on the pathology, biochemistry, and physiology of a disorder or illness, not considering social issues.
George L. Engel introduced the biopsychosocial model of psychiatry. The model considers how illness develops over time, focusing on several factors, including a person's mood, personality, and behavior. Social issues include socioeconomics, culture, and family relations. The biopsychosocial model of psychiatry looks at a person holistically, considering their genetics, cultural background, and emotional health, instead of primarily focusing on biology like the biomedical model.
In 2009, Niall McLaren published Humanizing Psychiatry: The Biocognitive Model. In the book, he asserts that modern psychiatrists rely upon solving human challenges with medication when that's not necessarily the answer. Dr. McLaren attacks stigma head-on and argues for treating people with mental illness fairly. In the Biocognitive model, Dr. McLaren argues that mental illness should be treated as seriously as a physical disease. Medication can be helpful but is not the only tool available to support clients. Treatment like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can sometimes be more effective.
If you’re living with mental illness or another challenge, you’re not alone. Although visiting a psychiatrist may help you relieve symptoms in the short term, talking to a therapist can also be beneficial for treating conditions or challenges related to mental well-being. However, some clients may avoid seeing an in-person therapist due to barriers to this form of support, such as finances or accessibility. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial.
You can get matched with a therapist within 48 hours and set treatment goals through an online therapy platform. In addition, online platforms allow clients to meet with a provider from home via phone, video, or live chat sessions, which may be more flexible for those who can’t access in-person sessions in their area.
Studies also back up the effectiveness of online therapy. One study found that online treatment for substance use disorders could be as effective as in-person therapy and more convenient and cost-effective.
Psychiatry is the profession of treating mental health conditions and symptoms with medication, psychotherapy, and assessment. Consider reading the above articles to learn more about psychiatry and how this career functions. You can also reach out to a professional for further mental health support. Note that BetterHelp does not offer medication management or prescription. Consult a doctor before starting, changing, or stopping any medication.