Key Takeaways

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral health conditions.
  • Psychiatrists can prescribe psychiatric medications. If you think that medication management might be part of your treatment needs, working with a psychiatrist might be right for you. 
  • Working with a team of mental health professionals is an effective way to ensure that all biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors are considered when managing your mental health.

What is a psychiatrist? 

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained to diagnose, manage, and prevent mental and behavioral health conditions. Psychiatrists treat a wide range of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. They’re also qualified to treat more complex disorders, such as schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Psychiatrists manage both the mental and physical aspects of mental health conditions. In addition to assessing and diagnosing mental health disorders, psychiatrists work with clients to:

  • Create treatment plans based on their specific diagnosis, medical history, and care needs
  • Prescribe and monitor psychiatric medications
  • Offer psychotherapy
  • Refer clients to other types of providers, like therapists 
  • Collaborate with other mental health professionals to best address client’s needs 

Why do people seek care from psychiatrists? 

Deciding to see a psychiatrist or other mental health professional is a personal decision. Some people seek psychiatric support after experiencing symptoms of mental health disorders, while others turn to psychiatrists for medication to help manage existing conditions. Here are several common reasons why people decide to meet with a psychiatrist.

  • Mental health symptoms that are severe enough to affect daily functioning
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm 
  • Thoughts of hurting other people
  • Violence, agitation, or emotional outbursts
  • Delusions 
  • Poor concentration or attention
  • Not seeing improvements with talk therapy alone 
  • Considering medication as part of your mental health treatment
  • Being diagnosed with a mental health condition that may benefit from medication management

Psychiatrist qualifications and training

Educational background

Becoming a psychiatrist requires more than a decade of education and training. Prior to seeing clients, a psychiatrist must earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject (like biology or psychology), complete four years of medical school, then complete a four-year residency program working in the psychiatry department of a hospital, clinic, or institution.

Specializations and certifications

After their residency, many psychiatrists will choose to take an examination to become a board certified psychiatrist. This exam is given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and must be renewed every 10 years.

Some psychiatrists choose to pursue additional training in a subspecialty, like: 

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Young adult psychiatry
  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Perinatal psychiatry

What types of treatment do psychiatrists provide?

Psychiatrists are trained to prescribe medication, provide psychotherapy, and manage treatment plans to best meet each client’s mental health needs. 

Medication management

Psychiatrists will often use psychiatric medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers to help clients reduce mental health symptoms and improve daily functioning.

Finding the right medication can take time, so it’s important for psychiatrists to optimize the benefits of medication while minimizing potential risks. This can include switching medications, adjusting doses, adding additional medications, and monitoring side effects. 

Talk therapy

Sometimes psychiatrists will use both medication and psychotherapy to treat a client. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is designed to help people identify and change harmful emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. 

There are many types of talk therapy so psychiatrists will choose the method that’s most effective for each person’s unique needs, concerns, and diagnoses. 

Some common types of psychotherapy include:

Psychiatrists vs. other mental health professionals

Choosing between a psychiatrist and other mental health professionals depends on your needs and preferences. Psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists are all trained to identify and treat mental health challenges, but may use different tools and methods to help you reach your goals. 

Differences between psychiatrists and psychologists

Psychologists are mental health professionals with a doctoral-level degree in psychology. While psychiatrists are trained as medical doctors and take a biological approach to treatment, psychologists focus on the environmental and psychological factors that impact people’s mental health and well-being. 

Psychologists use therapeutic practices like talk therapy, mindfulness, and behavioral modifications, while psychiatrists may supplement these practices with psychiatric medications. 

Differences between psychiatrists and therapists

A therapist is a licensed mental health professional who uses therapy to help people manage mental health symptoms and conditions. Therapists must earn a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or social work and complete 3,000 supervised clinical hours before obtaining their license to work with clients.

Other than education, one of the primary differences between psychiatrists and therapists is how they treat clients. While psychiatrists can prescribe medication, therapists don’t have the authority to prescribe medication and focus on talk therapy instead. 

Therapists are often a good fit for folks who: 

  • Have mild to moderate symptoms 
  • Don’t want or need medication to manage their mental health issues
  • Need couples counseling or group counseling

How psychiatrists work together with social workers, counselors, and psychologists

Working with a team of mental health professionals can be an effective way to manage your mental health, especially for people with conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. When multiple providers collaborate to treat a client, it can help ensure that all factors are considered. 

Some people may begin seeing a social worker or counselor and then decide to work with a psychiatrist to add medication to their treatment plan. Or a psychiatrist may suggest that a client sees a psychologist for additional psychological testing or a social worker for crisis intervention services.

Psychiatrists vs. psychiatric nurse practitioners

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in mental healthcare. Just like psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners are highly trained medical providers who are committed to helping people improve their mental health and achieve their treatment goals. 

Due to a national shortage of psychiatrists, working with a psychiatric nurse practitioner is considered to be an effective way to increase access to care. 

Also known as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, psychiatric nurse practitioners are qualified to:

  • Conduct comprehensive evaluations and assessments 
  • Diagnose mental health conditions
  • Prescribe psychiatric medications
  • Offer psychotherapy and counseling

Although psychiatric nurse practitioners are qualified to provide the highest level of mental health services, there’s one caveat about autonomy.  Professional autonomy is defined as the “authority to make decisions and the freedom to act in accordance with one’s professional knowledge base.” Approximately half of U.S. states allow psychiatric nurse practitioners to practice without physician oversight, while the other half operate with restricted or reduced practice. For example, some psychiatric nurse practitioners may need to work with a collaborating physician to sign off on prescriptions. 

Finding a psychiatric nurse practitioner with Rula

Finding a mental health provider to support your psychiatric needs isn’t always easy. The right provider depends on your mental health symptoms, personal preferences, and treatment goals. 

If your symptoms are severe enough to impact your daily functioning, consider seeing a psychiatric nurse practitioner who can assess your needs and prescribe medication if necessary. Psychiatric nurse practitioners represent the second largest group of behavioral health professionals in the U.S., which increases your chances of finding a provider who is the right fit for your clinical and cultural needs.

Here are a few points to consider when searching for a psychiatric nurse practitioner or any other mental health provider:

  • What are my treatment goals? 
  • What approach will they take to help me reach my goals? 
    • Do they practice a particular type of therapy? 
    • And if I need medication, is that an option with this provider? 
  • Do they have experience diagnosing and treating similar conditions to mine?

Whether you’re seeking professional support for the first time or you’re looking for new ways to manage your condition, Rula is here to support you as you look for the right provider to help you on your journey. Using Rula, you can find a psychiatric nurse practitioner or therapist who is accepting new clients, takes your insurance, and can see you this week. 

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