Are There Different Types Of Psychiatrists?
Updated November 13, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
If you're considering seeing a psychiatrist, you may be curious about what kinds there are. Like every field of medicine, some psychiatrists specialize in particular conditions or groups of people. It's a good idea to understand the different types of psychiatrists and what they do before moving forward with finding one for your own needs.
What's the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?
Although they all treat mental health conditions, there are fundamental differences between psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that specializes in mental health. Within that field, there are deeper specialties psychiatrists train in. Psychiatrists may use a variety of means to treat mental health problems, including prescribing medication and other therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.
Psychologists differ from psychiatrists in that they are not medical doctors who can prescribe medication; instead, they treat people through psychotherapy.
In this article, you'll learn more about what sets psychiatry apart from the other disciplines.
Most psychiatrists begin their careers with general psychiatry and move forward from there to specialize in certain areas such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, or addiction psychiatry, among others. A psychiatrist's career begins with a residency program after medical school. Additional studies and residency programs may be required, depending on their specialty. Some psychiatrists decide to simply practice general psychiatry without specializing in a specific population or clinical issue.
What Do Psychiatrists Do?
Psychiatrists evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders and problems with medication. Some psychiatrists may also provide talk therapy, although it is more common for them to refer patients for treatment with a licensed therapist. Psychiatrists may also use biofeedback therapy, ECT, and other therapies.
Psychiatrists work in several different settings. Many psychiatrists have private practices, in addition to working in a hospital or clinical setting. They may work in inpatient hospitals, community mental health clinics that are outpatient settings, or in private practices.
Can a Psychiatrist Prescribe Medication?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors with medical training and residency, and they have a full understanding of what medications are helpful in treating mental illness. They're also able to ensure that any prescribed drugs will not interact with other prescriptions you may be taking for other health conditions.
Types of Psychiatrists
There are several different specialties psychiatrists may be trained in. These specialists undergo additional training beyond residency programs and education in general psychiatry. In order to practice in a specific area of psychiatry, further education, clinical hours, and residency are required.
- Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists. Child and adolescent psychiatrists are trained to handle younger populations. These psychiatrists treat patients under the age of 18. This is an important area of psychiatry because many medications are not appropriate for children and teens. It is important that if you have a child or teen that needs psychiatric care that you use a psychiatrist that has this specialized training.
- Geriatric Psychiatrists. Geriatric psychiatrists are psychiatrists that specialize in elderly patients. Elderly patients have specific needs and unique disorders. Many geriatric psychiatrists work with older patients that have dementia or Alzheimer's disease. These mental health disorders can sometimes be accompanied by additional mental illness such as depression or anxiety, which a geriatric psychiatrist can treat in conjunction with other disorders.
- Addiction Psychiatrists. Addiction psychiatrists specialize in addiction treatment. Patients who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction typically also suffer from additional mental health disorders. These psychiatrists are trained specifically in treating addiction, as well as the coexisting complications. They can discover the underlying causes of addiction and diagnose pre-existing mental health disorders. They are also able to prescribe medications to help patients cope with withdrawal as well as their mental illness.
- Forensic Psychiatrists. Forensic psychiatrists work with the criminal and court system. These psychiatrists specialize in mental health disorders that lead to criminal activity. Often, forensic psychiatrists will be called on to determine if an inmate is suitable for trial or requires institutionalization. Many psychiatrists who work as forensic psychiatrists also have private practices in adult or general psychiatry.
- Neuropsychiatrists. A neuropsychiatrist is a psychiatrist trained to handle mental illnesses related to brain injuries, diseases, and nervous system problems. These psychiatrists have special knowledge of the brain and how brain issues affect mental health. Patients who have had a brain injury or a serious medical condition, and are suffering from mental illness as a result, require treatment from this highly specialized type of psychiatrist.
- Organizational Psychiatrist. Organizational psychiatrists are psychiatrists that specialize in workplace and organizational behavior. They focus on work and its importance in the lives of individuals and work organizations. These psychiatrists may be utilized by companies to help them develop policies and procedures that will enable them to provide good mental health conditions. These psychiatrists are also sometimes enlisted to help train and maintain management in an organization.
- Nurse Practitioners. Some acting psychiatrists are not actual doctors but are nurse practitioners. A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has undergone extensive training, education, and residency to be able to work as a psychiatrist under the supervision of a medical doctor. These nurse practitioners are sometimes sought after because many people believe nurse practitioners will spend more time with each patient they see, compared to doctors. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are under the direct supervision of psychiatrists and have all of their decisions and prescriptions to patients monitored carefully.
- Muli-Specialty Psychiatrists. Some psychiatrists may specialize in more than one area of psychiatry. Many psychiatrists practice general psychiatry in addition to their specialty. This is primarily due to the fact that there are not enough psychiatrists for the population needing mental health services. Psychiatrists often try to help as many patients as they are able. This usually means that psychiatrists split their time between different specialties, venues, hospitals, and organizations, in addition to private practice.
A Day in the Life of a Psychiatrist
A psychiatrist does much more than just see patients. Psychiatrists must continue their education and undergo professional development. New treatments, therapies, and medications are always becoming available, and it's the job of the psychiatrist to stay up to date on all this information. Certain laws in each state mandate a number of hours psychiatrists must spend on continuing education.
Psychiatrists also must maintain patient records. They must make sure they're making appropriate clinical notes in every patient's file after their appointment. They also must spend time before these engagements to re-familiarize themselves with the patient's case. Most psychiatrists have many patients, and it would be difficult for anyone to remember everything about every patient without refreshing their memory just before meetings.
BetterHelp Can Help
With only 44,000 psychiatrists nationwide, it can be challenging to find one near you that is able to assist with your unique needs. Local community mental health clinics are an option in many counties but may require wait times. If you live in a rural area, you may have to travel to a larger city to find a practicing psychiatrist. There are some psychiatry services available online, although not all of these will allow psychiatrists to prescribe medication based on video appointments.
Many people who are first finding that they have mental health concerns may visit with their family doctor or primary care physician who can help them with referrals or begin medications for some psychiatric conditions. Psychotherapy is a recommended treatment in many cases, and with sites like BetterHelp, it can be easy to find affordable and convenient counseling and psychotherapy online. BetterHelp provides access to thousands of licensed professional therapists. Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp professionals.
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Finding a psychiatrist can be a valuable asset to your treatment plan, especially alongside psychotherapy. Hopefully, this article has taught you how psychiatry can be used in various capacities to help people struggling with mental disorders. No matter the challenge or issue you're facing, you can move forward-with the right tools. Take the first step.