What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are professionals in the field of psychiatry who have earned a medical doctorate or a doctorate in osteopathy from an accredited medical school or an accredited school of osteopathy. After graduation, they must complete a four-year residency that includes three years of specific psychiatric residency.

After their residency, psychiatrists take an exam with both written and oral portions that last a full day. They must prove their skills in science and mental health to become board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). Every 10 years, psychiatrists must renew their certifications.

Unlike psychologists or therapists, psychiatrists can prescribe medications as needed for various psychiatric and mood disorders.

Psychiatrists can choose specialties like adolescent care, geriatric care, or addictions.

When to see a psychiatrist

You may seek the services of a psychiatrist for several different reasons. Perhaps you're suffering from — or have the symptoms of — a mood, anxiety or depressive disorder. Sometimes you may need therapy just to improve your ability to cope with the difficult moments of your life. You may need grief counseling or have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, an eating disorder or a phobia that can all benefit from psychiatric treatment.

If you are already seeing a therapist or psychologist, you may be referred to a psychiatrist who will analyze your symptoms and prescribe the correct medication. Likewise, a general physician may refer you to a psychiatrist for treatment.

Seeing a psychiatrist is not a sign of weakness or that you're "crazy." In today's society, much of the old stigma attached to mental illness is fortunately a thing of the past. Today, we view someone needing treatment for a mental condition the same way we would view someone needing treatment for a physical condition.

Choosing a psychiatrist

When choosing a psychiatrist, consider your therapeutic needs and the therapist's qualifications. If you're looking for cognitive behavioral therapy, you'll want to choose a psychiatrist who is knowledgeable in that field. Likewise, if you're struggling with an addiction, you would likely choose a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction treatment.

If you receive a referral from a trusted general practitioner, you should ask their doctor appropriate questions about the referred psychiatrist. Why is this particular psychiatrist recommended? Have other patients used him or her before, and were they satisfied?

Contact your health insurance provider to make sure that psychiatry is covered in your plan. Depending on your policy, you may need a referral from your primary care physician in order for your policy to pay for treatment. Read through the listing of psychiatrists in the provider directory available from your health insurance company. 

Check to see whether your psychiatrist is referenced on Angie's List. Do other patients feel comfortable with that psychiatrist's therapy practices? Do they feel they can trust recommendations for medication and treatment?

After narrowing the choices down, call each prospective psychiatrist's office and ask some pertinent questions. Is your insurance policy accepted there? What are the co-pays, or other fees, per visit? What is the policy for missed or rescheduled appointments?

Schedule an initial visit and pay close attention to how the psychiatrist responds to you. Discuss what sorts of therapy are available and which the psychiatrist feels would benefit your problems. Is the psychiatrist engaged and open to your needs? Does the therapist offer choices and explain options?

If the psychiatrist seems distant or disengaged from your case or if you just don't click with this potential caregiver, consider trying a different psychiatrist.Treatment and therapy are much more effective when there is a good rapport between client and doctor.

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