What Do Psychiatrists Do? How They Can Help You

By Nicole Beasley |Updated February 9, 2020

If you have ever considered checking in on your own mental health, you may be curious about what exactly psychiatrists do. Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in mental health. They are not the same as a psychologist, who only has an advanced degree, although they may engage in some of the same therapies. Before you make an appointment with a psychiatrist, it is helpful to understand what psychiatrists do and how they can help you.

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Psychiatrists Definition

The definition of a psychiatrist is a medical doctor that specializes in mental health and illness. Psychiatrists are either MDs or DOs, and they can prescribe medication. Some psychiatrists also use psychotherapy in much the same way as therapists, as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for mental health patients. Most psychiatrists focus only on the medical aspects of mental health, leaving psychotherapy to therapists or psychologists that work as part of the medical team.

Psychiatrist Career

Psychiatrists usually have very lengthy careers. After several years in medical school and residency programs, psychiatrists usually practice for decades before retiring. It is important to remember that a psychiatrist does not have to have years of experience to be able to effectively help you. It is your preference on the level of experience you would like to seek in a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrist Job Outlook

If you are considering becoming a psychiatrist yourself, you may be interested in the psychiatrist job outlook. Currently, about 44,000 psychiatrists are practicing throughout the United States. Considering that approximately one in five adults faces mental illness each year, this is not nearly enough providers. There is definitely room for more psychiatrists and career growth in the field.

Where Do Psychiatrists Work

Psychiatrists work in different venues and locations. Many psychiatrists have both private practice and work in additional locations. A psychiatrist may cover shifts and patients in mental health institutions or behavioral health centers. They may work as part of a team of psychiatrists and psychologists in mental health organizations. Psychiatrists may also work in hospitals or emergency rooms.

Some psychiatrists will also work in research, assisting in clinical studies for new medications and psychotherapies. Psychiatrists also often supplement their income with additional teaching at universities or providing continuing education workshops for other providers.

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Medical School For Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists do have to attend medical school because they are medical doctors specializing in mental health. After taking four years of college courses primarily in the sciences, psychiatrists undergo four additional years of medical school. After this time the psychiatrist may undergo additional schooling to specialize in a specific area, such as geriatric psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, or addiction psychiatry.

After medical school is completed, psychiatrists go through an additional four years in a residency program. During residency, psychiatrists work in mental health hospitals, emergency rooms, clinical settings, and private practices. Once their training is complete, they must pass a written and oral examination to become board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry. This certification has to be renewed every ten years.

Day in The Life of a Psychiatrist

A day in the life of a psychiatrist will vary depending on what venues they might work in. A psychiatrist may start their day with rounds and appointments within a mental health hospital, then move on to their private practice patient appointments. Psychiatrists may also spend time in research facilities and clinical trials.

In addition to meeting with patients, prescribing medications, and engaging in patient psychotherapy, psychiatrists must perform a variety of other tasks. They must make careful notes and keep medical records up to date for every patient. They also have to send in prescriptions through electronic delivery systems, talk to pharmacies to resolve issues with prescriptions, and handle incoming calls from patients who are having issues with their medications.

Psychiatrists will also spend a portion of their day preparing for their next round of patients. Most psychiatrists have so many patients that they cannot possibly keep all of their information in mind at all times. Before each appointment, the psychiatrist will spend at least a brief time going over the patient's file to refamiliarize themselves with their case.

Why Should I Consider Seeing a Psychiatrist If I Already Have a Therapist?

Psychiatrists can prescribe medication for mental health conditions. In fact, psychiatrists can diagnose patients with mental health disorders, run lab tests to determine if a medication will work or if there are risk factors, prescribe new medications, and adjust medications accordingly based on results and reactions.

It is important to note that while both psychiatrists, therapists, and psychologists can help patients with mental health disorders, only a psychiatrist can prescribe medications. This is because to prescribe medications an individual must be a medical doctor. Since all psychiatrists are medical doctors, this allows them to prescribe the medication they determine could benefit your mental health.

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How Much Does a Psychiatrist Cost

Psychiatrists cost different amounts of money in different parts of the country. The average cost of a psychiatrist is $500 for an initial consultation and $100 per additional follow up appointment. Some areas of the country have lower costs, but these are the average for the country. It may seem like a very high cost, yet many people pay these prices because they must have help with their mental illness. Additionally, many insurance plans offer coverage for psychiatry visits which can significantly lower the cost to you.

If you do not have health insurance and you cannot afford the high costs of psychiatric care, you may have other options depending on what is available in your area. Some states have options for people who have low income and need mental health services. These community mental health or behavioral clinics sometimes work on a sliding fee scale that allows you to pay what you can reasonably afford. You can also, with caution, see your primary care physician. While they do not specialize in mental health treatment and medication, they are able to prescribe mental health medications and will be able to tell you if they are comfortable to do so based on their training and competency.

You also have the option of getting psychotherapy treatment through online platforms like BetterHelp. You will not be prescribed medication on BetterHelp, but you can work with a counselor and gain and practice coping skills and see if the benefits of talk therapy can get you back on a healthy track to where you may no longer feel you need medication. Everyone is different.

What Other Tasks Do Psychiatrists Perform?

Other things that a mental health psychiatrist can do includes diagnosing patients with mental illness and disorders. Psychiatrists can use a variety of methods to diagnose patients with mental health disorders, including psychoanalysis, general conversation about symptoms, close evaluation, clinical tests, and laboratory tests.

Psychiatrists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM 5, to diagnose patients accurately with mental health disorders. The DSM 5 is the standardized manual of all of the mental health disorders that exist, their symptoms, and their effective treatments. Every psychiatrist should use this standard in diagnosing and treating patients.

Your psychiatrist may also suggest that you participate in certain clinical trials for new medications or different types of treatments. This may be particularly true if a patient seems to be resistant to known treatment methods. It is also likely that your psychiatrist will suggest that you see a therapist in addition to seeing them for medication management.

How Psychiatrists Help You

Psychiatrists can help you in many ways. Through prescription of medications and other treatments, psychiatrists can help you become a better and healthier version of yourself. Psychiatrists can be very helpful by diagnosing mental health disorders. Sometimes it can help just to know what is wrong so you can begin the path to finding the right mental health professionals to help you on your healing journey.

It is important that you remember that a psychiatrist can only help you as much as you allow them to. There is a considerable amount of effort that has to be put forth by the patient for such treatments to work effectively. You must take medications as prescribed and fully participate in recommendations to get the full benefit. It is important, to be honest. Your psychiatrist cannot help you if they do not know what is really going on.


If you are on the fence about whether or not you want to see a psychiatrist, consider a middle ground by contacting an organization like BetterHelp. With BetterHelp you will be able to talk to a licensed therapist and engage in psychotherapy. From that point, along with the help of your counselor, you can decide if a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication is necessary to support your mental health.

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