A psychiatrist is a physician
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

 who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. All psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and in psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is a general term referring to any form of therapeutic interaction or treatment contracted between a trained professional and a client or patient; family, couple or group...

. As part of their evaluation of the patient, among the mental health professionals only psychiatrists are authorized to prescribe psychiatric medication
Psychiatric medication
A psychiatric medication is a licensed psychoactive drug taken to exert an effect on the mental state and used to treat mental disorders. Usually prescribed in psychiatric settings, these medications are typically made of synthetic chemical compounds, although some are naturally occurring, or at...

, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests and electroencephalogram
Electroencephalography is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp. EEG measures voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic current flows within the neurons of the brain...

s, and may order brain imaging studies such as computed tomography
Computed tomography
X-ray computed tomography or Computer tomography , is a medical imaging method employing tomography created by computer processing...

 or computed axial tomography (CT/CAT Scan), magnetic resonance imaging
Magnetic resonance imaging
Magnetic resonance imaging , nuclear magnetic resonance imaging , or magnetic resonance tomography is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to visualize detailed internal structures...

 (MRI), and positron emission tomography
Positron emission tomography
Positron emission tomography is nuclear medicine imaging technique that produces a three-dimensional image or picture of functional processes in the body. The system detects pairs of gamma rays emitted indirectly by a positron-emitting radionuclide , which is introduced into the body on a...



Psychiatrists are physicians (MBBS
Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery
Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, or in Latin Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae , are the two first professional degrees awarded upon graduation from medical school in medicine and surgery by universities in various countries...

, M.D.
Doctor of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine is a doctoral degree for physicians. The degree is granted by medical schools...

, DO
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is a professional doctoral degree for physicians in the United States. Holders of the MD degree, Doctor of Medicine, have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as osteopathic physicians in the United States.The American Osteopathic Association’s Commission...

, etc.) who specialize in treating mental illness
Mental illness
A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological or behavioral pattern generally associated with subjective distress or disability that occurs in an individual, and which is not a part of normal development or culture. Such a disorder may consist of a combination of affective, behavioural,...



The field of psychiatry itself can be divided into various subspecialties. These include:
  • Addiction psychiatry
    Addiction psychiatry
    Addiction psychiatry is a subspecialty within psychiatry that focuses on the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of people who are suffering from one or more disorders related to addiction...

  • Adult psychiatry

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
    Child and adolescent psychiatry
    The branch of psychiatry that specializes in the study, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of psychopathological disorders of children, adolescents, and their families, child and adolescent psychiatry encompasses the clinical investigation of phenomenology, biologic factors, psychosocial factors,...

  • Consultation-liaison psychiatry
    Liaison psychiatry
    Liaison psychiatry, also known as consultative psychiatry or consultation-liaison psychiatry is the branch of psychiatry that specialises in the interface between medicine and psychiatry, usually taking place in a hospital or medical setting...

  • Cross-cultural psychiatry
    Cross-cultural psychiatry
    Cross-cultural psychiatry or transcultural psychiatry is a branch of psychiatry concerned with the cultural and ethnic context of mental disorders and psychiatric services...

  • Emergency psychiatry
  • Forensic psychiatry
    Forensic psychiatry
    Forensic psychiatry is a sub-speciality of psychiatry and an auxiliar science of criminology. It encompasses the interface between law and psychiatry...

  • Learning disability
    Learning disability
    Learning disability is a classification including several disorders in which a person has difficulty learning in a typical manner, usually caused by an unknown factor or factors...

  • Neurodevelopmental disabilities
  • Neuropsychiatry
    Neuropsychiatry is the branch of medicine dealing with mental disorders attributable to diseases of the nervous system. It preceded the current disciplines of psychiatry and neurology, in as much as psychiatrists and neurologists had a common training....

  • Psychosomatic medicine
  • Cognition
    In science, cognition refers to mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions. Cognition is studied in various disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and computer science...

     diseases as in various forms of dementia
    Dementia is a serious loss of cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging...

Some psychiatric practitioners specialize in helping certain age groups. Child and adolescent psychiatrists work with children and teenagers in addressing psychological problems. Those who work with the elderly are called geriatric psychiatrists or geropsychiatrists. Those who practice psychiatry in the workplace are called organizational and occupational psychiatrists
Industrial and organizational psychology
Industrial and organizational psychology is the scientific study of employees, workplaces, and organizations. Industrial and organizational psychologists contribute to an organization's success by improving the performance and well-being of its people...

 in the U.S. (occupational psychology is the name used for the most similar discipline in the UK). Psychiatrists working in the courtroom and reporting to the judge and jury, in both criminal and civil court cases, are called forensic psychiatrists, who also treat mentally disordered offenders and other patients whose condition is such that they have to be treated in secure units.

Other psychiatrists and mental health professionals in the field of psychiatry may also specialize in psychopharmacology
Psychopharmacology is the scientific study of the actions of drugs and their effects on mood, sensation, thinking, and behavior...

, psychiatric genetics
Psychiatric genetics
Psychiatric genetics, a subfield of behavioral neurogenetics, studies the role of genetics in psychological conditions such as alcoholism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism. The basic principle behind psychiatric genetics is that genetic polymorphisms, as indicated by linkage to e.g...

, neuroimaging
Neuroimaging includes the use of various techniques to either directly or indirectly image the structure, function/pharmacology of the brain...

, dementia
Dementia is a serious loss of cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging...

-related disorders as Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease also known in medical literature as Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death...

, sleep medicine
Sleep medicine
Sleep medicine is a medical specialty or subspecialty devoted to the diagnosis and therapy of sleep disturbances and disorders. From the middle of the 20th century, research has provided increasing knowledge and answered many questions about sleep-wake functioning. The rapidly evolving field has...

, pain medicine, palliative medicine, eating disorder
Eating disorder
Eating disorders refer to a group of conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual's physical and mental health. Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common specific...

s, sexual disorders, women's health
Women's health
Women's health refers to health issues specific to human female anatomy. These often relate to structures such as female genitalia and breasts or to conditions caused by hormones specific to, or most notable in, females. Women's health issues include menstruation, contraception, maternal health,...

, Global Mental Health
Global Mental Health
The World Health Organization defines mental health as a 'state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community'.The term Global...

, early psychosis intervention
Early intervention in psychosis
Early intervention in psychosis is a clinical approach to those experiencing symptoms of psychosis for the first time. It forms part of a new prevention paradigm for psychiatry and is leading to reform of mental health services, especially in the United Kingdom....

, mood disorders and anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive–compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions...

 and post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...


Professional requirements

Typically the requirements to become a psychiatrist are substantial but differ from country to country.

US and Canada

In the U.S. and Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 one must first complete their Bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

, or in Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 complete a premedical course of study in Cégep
CEGEP is an acronym for , which is literally translated as "College of General and Vocational Education" but commonly called "General and Vocational College" in circles not influenced by Quebec English. It refers to the public post-secondary education collegiate institutions exclusive to the...

. Students may choose any major, however they must enroll in specific courses, usually outlined in a pre-medical program
Pre-medical is a term used to describe a track an undergraduate student in the United States pursues prior to becoming a medical student...

. Students then apply for and attend 4 years of medical school
Medical school
A medical school is a tertiary educational institution—or part of such an institution—that teaches medicine. Degree programs offered at medical schools often include Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Bachelor/Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Philosophy, master's degree, or other post-secondary...

 in order to earn their M.D.
Doctor of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine is a doctoral degree for physicians. The degree is granted by medical schools...

 or D.O.
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is a professional doctoral degree for physicians in the United States. Holders of the MD degree, Doctor of Medicine, have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as osteopathic physicians in the United States.The American Osteopathic Association’s Commission...

 and to complete their medical education
Medical education in the United States
Medical education in the United States includes educational activities involved in the education and training of medical doctors in the United States, from entry-level training through to continuing education of qualified specialists....

. Following this, the individual must practice as a psychiatric resident
Residency (medicine)
Residency is a stage of graduate medical training. A resident physician or resident is a person who has received a medical degree , Podiatric degree , Dental Degree and who practices...

 for another four years (five years in Canada). This extended period allows comprehensive training that includes diagnosis, psychopharmacology, medical care issues, and psychotherapies. All accredited psychiatry residencies in the United States require proficiency in cbt (cognitive-behavioral), brief, psychodynamic, and supportive psychotherapies. Psychiatry residents are often required to complete at least four post-graduate months of internal medicine or pediatrics and two months of neurology during their first year. After completing their training, psychiatrists take written and then oral board examinations. The total amount of time required to complete post-baccalaureate work in the field of psychiatry in the United States is typically 12 years of training. Child and Adolescent psychiatrists are required to complete a two year residency program. The first year can be done during the fourth year of the general psychiatry residency program. This adds one to two years of training.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, psychiatrists must hold a medical degree. These degrees are often abbreviated MB BChir, MB BCh, MB ChB, BM BS, or MB BS
Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery
Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, or in Latin Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae , are the two first professional degrees awarded upon graduation from medical school in medicine and surgery by universities in various countries...

. Following this, the individual will work as a Foundation House Officer
Foundation House Officer
A Foundation Doctor is a grade of medical practitioner in the United Kingdom undertaking the Foundation Programme - a two-year, general postgraduate medical training programme which forms the bridge between medical school and specialist/general practice training...

 for two additional years in the UK, or one year as Intern
Internship is a system of onthejob training for white-collar jobs, similar to an apprenticeship. Interns are usually college or university students, but they can also be high school students or post graduate adults seeking skills for a new career. They may also be as young as middle school or in...

 in the Republic of Ireland to achieve registration as a basic medical practitioner. Following this, training in psychiatry can begin and it is taken in two parts: Basic Specialist Training is the first three years and trainees take the MRCPsych exam (equivalent of ABPN board exams). The second stage of training is Higher Specialist Training, referred to as "ST4-6" in the UK and "Senior Registrar Training" in the Republic of Ireland. Candidates with MRCPsych degree and complete basic training must reinterview for higher specialist training. At this stage, the development of speciality interests such as forensic, child/adolescent take place. At the end of 3 years of higher specialist training, candidates are awarded a CCT (UK) or CCST (Ireland), both meaning Certificate of Completion of (Specialist) Training. At this stage, the psychiatrist can register as a specialist and the qualification of CC(S)T is recognised in all EU/EEA states. As such, training in the UK and Ireland is considerably longer than in the US or Canada and frequently takes around 8–9 years following graduation from medical school. Those with a CC(S)T will be able to apply for Consultant posts. Those with training from outside the EU/EEA should consult local medical boards to review their qualifications and eligibility for equivalence recognition (for example, those with a US residency and ABPN qualification).


In the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 one must complete medical school: a 6 year university programme after which one earns the title "doctorandus in de geneeskunde" or "master of medicine". After medical school, one is certified as a medical doctor. After a strict selection programme one can specialise in psychiatry: a 4,5 year specialisation. During this specialisation, the resident has to do a 6 month residency in the field of social psychiatry, a 12 month residency in a field of their own choice (which can be child psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, somatic medicine or medical research) and an obligatory adolescent psychiatrist, one has to do an extra specialisation period of 2 more years. In short this means that it takes at least 10,5 years of study to become a psychiatrist which can go up to 12,5 years if one becomes a children's and adolescent psychiatrist.

See also

Further reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  • Frances, A., & First, M. (1999). Your Mental Health: A Layman's Guide to the Psychiatrist's Bible. New York: Scribner.
  • Stout, E. (1993). From the Other Side of the Couch: Candid Conversations with Psychiatrists and Psychologists. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
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