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A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry and is certified in treating mental disorders. All psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and in psychotherapy. And, as part of their evaluation of the patient, psychiatrists are one of only a few mental health professionals who may prescribe psychiatric medication, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests and electroencephalogram, and may order brain imaging studies such as computed tomography or computed axial tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography scanning.

Psychiatry in the professional world

Psychiatrists are either: 1) physicians (MBBS, MD, DO, etc) who specialize in treating mental illness or (2) scientists who are qualified as doctors in the academic field of psychiatry. All psychiatrists who treat individuals clinically are physicians. Research psychiatrists—like researchers in other medical fields such as immunologists—may or may not be physicians, depending on their qualifications. This varies internationally.


The field of psychiatry itself can be divided into various subspecialties. These include:

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 in the US (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, psychiatric genetics, neuroimaging, sleep medicine, pain medicine, palliative medicine, eating disorders, sexual disorders, women's health, early psychosis intervention, mood disorders and anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder).

Professional requirements

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

In the U.S.marker and Canadamarker one must first complete their Bachelor's degree, or in Québecmarker complete a premedical course of study in Cégep. Students may choose any major, however they must enroll in specific courses, usually outlined in a pre-medical program. One must then apply to and attend 4 years of medical school in order to earn their M.D. or D.O. and to complete their medical education. Following this, the individual must practice as a psychiatric resident 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 8 years of training.

In the United Kingdommarker, the Republic of Irelandmarker, and other parts of the world, one must complete a medical degree. These degrees are often abbreviated MB BChir, MB BCh, MB ChB, BM BS, or MB BS. Following this, the individual will work as a Foundation House Officer for two additional years in the UK, or one year as Intern 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).

See also


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (Unknown last update). What is a Psychiatrist. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  2. American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. (5 March 2007). ABPN Certification - Subspecialties. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  3. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2005). Careers info for School leavers. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  4. (Unknown last update). Student Information. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  5. Careers info for School leavers

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.
  • Hafner, H. (2002). Psychiatry as a profession. Nervenarzt, 73, 33.
  • Stout, E. (1993). From the Other Side of the Couch: Candid Conversations with Psychiatrists and Psychologists. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

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