What do psychiatrists do?

A psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor who has obtained additional qualifications to become a specialist in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness and emotional problems.

Because of their extensive medical and psychiatric training, psychiatrists are able to view illness in an integrated way by taking into consideration the related aspects of body and mind. Psychiatrists are trained both to recognise and treat the effects of emotional disturbances on the body as a whole, as well as the effects of physical conditions on the mind.

Psychiatrists use a wide range of effective therapies in the treatment and prevention of mental illness. They can prescribe medication, provide a specialised psychological counselling (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy and family therapy) and organise support services and assistance for individuals and their families. They can also be involved in a wide range of social therapies involving families and other groups including rehabilitation of those with longer term disorders.

Psychiatrists work in a variety of settings, including in public and private hospital inpatient units, emergency wards, community mental health teams, general practice settings, universities, prisons, private clinics and in private practice. Psychiatrists also act as consultants in drug and alcohol programs and to community services. Within hospitals they are commonly involved in liaison with other areas of medicine and surgery, for example as consultants to pain clinics.

Psychiatrists often work closely with a variety of other healthcare professionals such as community psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists and occupational therapists.

Some psychiatrists work in more than one area, such as combining part time work in a public hospital with a private practice. Psychiatrists are also involved in a broad range of community issues and organisations, and are often called upon to assist both government and non-government agencies in the development of mental health policies and services.

Some psychiatrists can also be primarily involved in research or a combination of clinical work and research.

(Adapted from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website)