What Does A Psychiatrist Do?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Psychiatrists are medical doctors working in the field of psychology. They are not the same as psychologists, although they may engage in similar therapeutic practices due to their advanced medical qualifications. Before you make an appointment with a psychiatrist, it may be helpful to understand what psychiatrists do and how they can help you.

From there, you can make an informed decision about your treatment.

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Psychiatrists – Medical doctors and mental health providers

psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in treating and diagnosing mental health disorders. Psychiatrists attend medical school, attend a residency, and can prescribe medication, order tests, and solicit patient referrals. 

Some psychiatrists use psychotherapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, much like a therapist might. However, many psychiatrists focus only on the medical aspects of mental health, leaving psychotherapy to therapists or psychologists who work as part of a treatment team.

Psychiatrist career outlook

A psychiatrist career is often a long-term track. After several years in medical school and residency programs, psychiatrists may practice for decades before retiring. About 44,000 psychiatrists are practicing throughout the United States. Considering that one in five adults experiences symptoms of a mental illness each year, the demand for psychiatrists may continue to grow. 

Where do psychiatrists work?

Psychiatrists can work in different venues and industries. A psychiatrist may treat patients in behavioral health centers, for instance, while also maintaining their own non-public office. They may also work in hospitals or emergency rooms.

Some psychiatrists work in research, assisting in clinical studies for new medications and psychotherapies. Some professionals also supplement their income by teaching at universities or facilitating educational workshops and training for other providers.

What do psychiatrists need to become licensed? 

To become a psychiatrist, an individual must complete medical school. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, unlike most other mental health professionals (for example, psychologists, who typically have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology). After taking four years of college courses, often on the pre-med track, 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, emergency psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, or addiction psychiatry.

What happens after medical school for a psychiatrist?

After medical school, psychiatrists undergo an additional four years of extensive training in a residency program. Once their training is complete, they must pass a written and oral examination to become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry. This certification must be renewed every ten years.


What does a psychiatrist do? 

A day in the life of a psychiatrist can vary depending on their specialty, the venue in which they provide their services, and whether they work in research or clinical practice.

For example, a psychiatrist who specializes in geriatric psychiatry and conducts clinical trials in research facilities will have different responsibilities than one who treats eating disorders in non-public practice. Below, we’re answering the question: What can a psychiatrist do?   

Treat mental health disorders

As part of their practice, many psychiatrists evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental disorders.

They may do this in non-public practice, clinics, or hospitals. They may also work for government agencies, helping treat individuals in the legal or correctional system. Psychiatrists treat mental health conditions through medication management, talk therapy, and other modalities. 

The treatment process often begins with a comprehensive evaluation, then a comparison of an individual’s symptoms with the criteria set out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If a diagnosis is necessary, the psychiatrist can then develop a care plan that may involve medication, therapy, and other methods of treatment. 

Work with another type of medical doctor 

Psychiatrists can address concerns related to mental health, problems with physical well-being, and comorbid challenges. Because psychiatrists understand the connections between physical and mental health, they can help other professionals address complications that may arise out of that relationship. Consultation-liaison psychiatry is a specialty in which psychiatrists help treat mental health conditions in individuals who may be undergoing other medical treatments for a comorbid condition. For example, a consultation-liaison psychiatrist may help a primary healthcare provider manage depression in an individual being treated for diabetes (two commonly comorbid conditions). 

Conduct research

Psychiatric research is an important field, helping professionals better understand certain psychiatric disorders and develop effective medical treatments. Psychiatrists in this field may conduct imaging studies to learn more about the neurobiology of behavioral disorders; or they may conduct clinical trials on a medication for a specific mental health condition, like bipolar disorder. 

Are there administrative duties involved in psychiatry?

In addition to meeting with patients, prescribing medications, and engaging in psychotherapy, psychiatrists might be responsible for making careful notes and keeping every patient's medical records up to date. They may also send prescriptions through electronic delivery systems, talk to pharmacies to resolve prescription-related challenges, and handle incoming calls from patients with medication challenges.

The day to day of a psychiatrist

Psychiatrists often spend a portion of their day preparing for their next round of patients. Some psychiatrists have many patients, so they may spend a brief time reviewing the patient's file before a session to refamiliarize themselves with their case.

Can you see a psychiatrist and a therapist? 

Unlike therapists, psychiatrists can prescribe medication for mental health disorders. These professionals can also diagnose patients, run lab tests, manage medications, and adjust medications accordingly based on results and side effects. Therapists cannot prescribe medications, order medical tests, or work as a doctor. 

The differences between various mental health professionals

While psychiatrists, therapists, and psychologists can all guide clients in learning to manage mental illness, only a psychiatrist can offer treatment advice. The benefit of working with a psychiatrist in addition to a therapist is the additional resources available. For example, if your psychiatrist thinks you may benefit from medication, you can take meds that may assist you in completing therapy successfully. However, consult your doctor before starting, changing, or stopping any medication. 

How much does a psychiatrist cost?

Psychiatrists have varying costs depending on the area of the country you live in, their experience, and the services you're paying for. However, the average cost of a psychiatrist maybe $500 for an initial consultation and $100 per additional follow-up appointment. Insurance plans often offer coverage for psychiatry visits, which can significantly lower their cost. 

Affordable options for those without health insurance

If you do not have health insurance and cannot afford psychiatric care, you may have other options depending on what is available in your area. Some states have options for people who have low incomes. These community mental health or behavioral clinics sometimes work on a sliding fee scale that allows you to pay what you can reasonably afford. In some cases, a primary care physician can prescribe mental health medications based on their clinical training and experience. 

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Finding the right professional for you

By providing you with the resources to treat your symptoms, psychiatrists can help you become a healthier, more confident version of yourself. Likewise, talking to a psychiatrist may be the first step toward receiving diagnoses, medical treatment, and connections to other professionals. 

In addition to working with a psychiatrist, speaking to a therapist to develop long-term behavioral techniques to manage mental health symptoms can be helpful. Though a therapist is not the same as a psychiatrist, they may be able to support you in ways a psychiatrist can't. For example, therapy may help you identify which challenges you face, what you can do to cope, and how you can find balance. 

Online therapy

If you're looking for affordability and convenience, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp may help you achieve your goals. You can save time and money by pursuing treatment online because you may not have to pay overhead costs, gas prices, or childcare fees. However, note that online therapists cannot prescribe medication, and some may not be able to offer a diagnosis. 

Supporting research

A recent review of studies surrounding online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) found it led to significant decreases in anxiety and depression symptoms. It was also significantly effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, and specific phobias. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.


Psychiatrists are mental health professionals and medical doctors. This title sets them apart from others in the field, like therapists. A combination of psychiatry and psychotherapy can often help clients effectively manage mental health symptoms. If you're interested in meeting with a therapist to supplement your psychiatry appointments, consider contacting a provider online or in your area to get started.
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