We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Psychiatrist?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor who has not only earned a medical degree (MD), but who has further specialized in the field of psychiatry, which emphasizes the care and treatment of people with mental illness. This specialization takes three to four years of study after obtaining a medical license, and involves treating people with mental illness in a variety of settings. In the US, most people who specialize in this field then take examinations given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to receive board certification. For the patient evaluating psychiatrists, board certification is a good thing to look for because it indicates that the doctor in question has demonstrated sufficient knowledge in his or her profession.

Sometimes people confuse psychiatrists with other therapists. Only medical doctors can use this job title and only they — not counselors, social workers, or psychologists — can prescribe medications or other medical therapies for the treatment of mental disorders. Many of these specialists work in conjunction with therapists, and they may provide therapy or counseling only as it relates to medication issues while a main therapist provides the majority of actual counseling. This is not always the case, however.

Other professionals not only prescribe medication but also offer therapy, since they are trained to do so, much as any other therapist would be. In the US, it can sometimes be worthwhile to find a psychiatrist who also maintains a therapy practice, as most health insurance companies treat visits to this type of medical professional as normal doctor's visits. Visits to a therapist may be limited in certain places, and in many states, health insurance only allows people a maximum of 20 visits to a therapist a year, which may not be sufficient to address a chronic mental illness.

A psychiatrist can work in many settings, including hospitals, mental health facilities or prisons. Others maintain a private practice, and still others consult with mental health facilities and maintain private practices. They can also work in research facilities, for pharmaceutical companies, or they may be part of investigative organizations like the police force.

Some specialize in criminal psychiatry and examine people accused of a crime to testify as to their fitness to stand trial or their mental health status during the commission of a crime. In criminal trials, a mental health expert may testify for the defense, suggesting that a person cannot be held legally responsible for a crime because of mental illness. As part of criminal investigation, psychiatrists may also create profiles to help police narrow their field of suspects.

One of the principal jobs of this doctor in therapeutic settings is the diagnosis of mental illness and determining course of treatment. In other words, he or she typically diagnoses mental illness and prescribes drugs and/or other medical therapies thought most effective. Since certain medications may have unwanted side effects, and it can take a while to find the right treatment for each individual patient, the doctor will continue to evaluate the patient until he or she is considered stabilized through medical therapies.

If a patient does have both a psychiatrist and a talk therapist, one of the most important things to look for is the willingness of both parties to communicate with each other. The patient should sign whatever medical releases are necessary so these two clinicians can work with each other. Since many treatments for mental illness are primarily addressed by both talk or cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, clinicians with opposing opinions on treatment may create problems for the patient. It's often beneficial to ask a therapist for recommendations for other healthcare professionals with whom he or she works frequently. Some practices employ mental health professionals of different types, which can make communication between these practitioners easier to achieve.

When a psychiatrist actually uses talk therapy, it's important to remember that there are many different philosophical approaches to the treatment of mental illness. Therapists can be Jungians, Freudians, behaviorists, humanists, Gestalt therapists or fall into a category that is more loosely defined. A patient may want to ask his clinician what his or her approach to therapy is prior to beginning treatment to see if this is compatible with his own philosophies on achieving good mental health.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon217024 — On Sep 23, 2011

people say psychiatrists are the devil and only prescribe meds to "fix" things on a trial and error basis. just researchers.

By raresteak — On Jul 13, 2010

In addition to being able to prescribe medications, psychiatrists can recommend treatment such as shock therapy and psychotherapy. They often work with the patients' families and other mental health workers to determine the best course of action to improve the lives of those with mental health problems. Psychiatrists are also responsible for ordering lab test and other types of diagnostic testing.

By jwal33 — On Jul 13, 2010

Some psychiatrists opt to perform research about mental illness instead of working with patients. These research psychiatrists study the causes and effects of mental disorders. Some may also teach in medical schools or special psychiatric institutes.

By ginsberg05 — On Jul 13, 2010

In the United States, the median expected salary for a psychiatrist is $180,863.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.