Psychiatry deals withe diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders among humans.

A psychiatrist is the medical professional who specializes in psychiatry, i.e. mental health of patients, which includes those caused by substance use. Psychiatrists do not access the mental  aspects of psychological problems but the physical aspects as well. Psychiatric problems can be both sudden and/ or more long term.

Diagnosing Psychiatric Patients

Psychiatrists are physicians and can order or perform medical laboratory and psychological tests which, combined with discussions with patients, help understand the condition of the patients. Their taining empowers them to understand the relationship that exist between emotional and other medical illnesses and the relationships with genetics and family history, to diagnose psychiatric conditions.

What Treatments Do Psychiatrists Use?

Depending on the patients needs, psychiatrists use various treatments  such as psychotherapy, medications, psychosocial interventions and other treatments.


Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, involves a therapist talking to a patient and treats various mental and emotional problems. Depending on the extent of the problem, treatment may take just a few sessions over a week or two or may take many sessions over a period of years. Psychotherapy can be done individually, as a couple, with a family, or in a group.

There are many forms of psychotherapy. There are psychotherapies that help patients change behaviors or thought patterns, psychotherapies that help patients explore the effect of past relationships and experiences on present behaviors, and psychotherapies that are tailored to help solve other problems in specific ways. Cognitive behavior therapy is a goal-oriented therapy focusing on problem solving. Psychoanalysis is an intensive form of individual psychotherapy which requires frequent sessions over several years.

Most medications are used by psychiatrists in much the same way that medications are used to treat other illnesses. Patients on long-term medication treatment will need to meet with their psychiatrist periodically to monitor the effectiveness of the medication and any potential side effects.

Class of Medications

  • Antidepressants – used to treat depression, panic disorder, PTSD, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder and eating disorders.
  • Antipsychotic medications – used to treat psychotic symptoms (delusions and hallucinations), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.
  • Sedatives and anxiolytics – used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
  • Hypnotics – used to induce and maintain sleep.
  • Mood stabilizers – used to treat bipolar disorder.
  • Stimulants – used to treat ADHD.

Psychiatrists often prescribe medications in combination with psychotherapy.

Other treatments are also sometimes used. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a medical treatment that involves applying electrical currents to the brain, is used most often to treat severe depression that has not responded to other treatments. Deep brain stimulation (DBS), vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are a few of the newer therapies being used to treat some mental disorders. Light therapy is used to treat seasonal depression.

Psychiatric Training

To become a psychiatrist, a person must complete medical school and take a written examination for a state license to practice medicine, and then complete four years of psychiatry residency.

After completing residency training, most psychiatrists take a voluntary written and oral examination given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to become a “board certified” psychiatrist. They must be re-certified every 10 years.

Some psychiatrists also complete additional specialized training after their four years of general psychiatry training. They may become certified in:

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Psychosomatic (mind and body) medicine
  • Sleep medicine
  • Forensic (legal) psychiatry
  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Pain medicine
  • Geriatric psychiatry

Some psychiatrists choose additional training in psychoanalysis or in psychiatric research.