Names Psychiatrist, Alienist (archaic)
Activity sectors Medicine > Psychiatry
Competencies Analytical mind, patience
Education required Doctor of Medicine

A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.[1] All psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and in psychotherapy. As part of their evaluation of the patient, among the mental health professionals only psychiatrists are authorized to prescribe psychiatric medication, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests and electroencephalograms, and may order brain imaging studies such as computed tomography or computed axial tomography (CT/CAT Scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography scanning.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]



Psychiatrists are physicians (MBBS, M.D., DO, etc.) who specialize in treating mental illness.


The field of psychiatry itself can be divided into various subspecialties.[9] These include:

  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Adult psychiatry

Some psychiatric practitioners specialize in helping certain age groups. Child and adolescent psychiatrists work with children and teenagers in addressing psychological problems.[9] Those who work with the elderly are called geriatric psychiatrists or geropsychiatrists.[9] Those who practice psychiatry in the workplace are called organizational and occupational psychiatrists in the U.S. (occupational psychology is the name used for the most similar discipline in the UK).[9] 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.[9][10]

Other psychiatrists and mental health professionals in the field of psychiatry may also specialize in psychopharmacology, psychiatric genetics, neuroimaging, dementia-related disorders as Alzheimer's disease, sleep medicine, pain medicine, palliative medicine, eating disorders, sexual disorders, women's health, Global Mental Health, early psychosis intervention, mood disorders and anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder).[9][10]

Professional requirements

Typically the requirements to become a psychiatrist are substantial but differ from country to country.[9][11]

US and Canada

In the U.S. and Canada one must first complete their Bachelor's degree, or in Quebec complete a premedical course of study in Cégep.[11] Students may choose any major, however they must enroll in specific courses, usually outlined in a pre-medical program.[11] Students then apply for and attend 4 years of medical school in order to earn their M.D. or D.O. and to complete their medical education.[11] 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.[11] After completing their training, psychiatrists take written and then oral board examinations.[11] The total amount of time required to complete post-baccalaureate work in the field of psychiatry in the United States is typically 12 years of training. Child and Adolescent psychiatrists are required to complete a two year residency program. The first year can be done during the fourth year of the general psychiatry residency program. This adds one to two years of training.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, psychiatrists must hold a medical degree.[12] 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).


In the Netherlands one must complete medical school: a 6 year university programme after which one earns the title "doctorandus in de geneeskunde" or "master of medicine". After medical school, one is certified as a medical doctor. After a strict selection programme one can specialise in psychiatry: a 4,5 year specialisation. During this specialisation, the resident has to do a 6 month residency in the field of social psychiatry, a 12 month residency in a field of their own choice (which can be child psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, somatic medicine or medical research) and an obligatory adolescent psychiatrist, one has to do an extra specialisation period of 2 more years. In short this means that it takes at least 10,5 years of study to become a psychiatrist which can go up to 12,5 years if one becomes a children's and adolescent psychiatrist.

See also


  1. ^ American Psychiatric Association. (Unknown last update). What is a Psychiatrist. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  2. ^ Meyendorf, R. (1980). Diagnosis and differential diagnosis in psychiatry and the question of situation referred prognostic diagnosis. Schweizer Archiv Neurol Neurochir Psychiatry für Neurologie, Neurochirurgie et de psychiatrie, 126, 121-134.
  3. ^ Leigh, H. (1983). Psychiatry in the practice of medicine. Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-201-05456-9, p. 15
  4. ^ Leigh, H. (1983). Psychiatry in the practice of medicine. Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-201-05456-9, p. 67
  5. ^ Leigh, H. (1983). Psychiatry in the practice of medicine. Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-201-05456-9, p. 17
  6. ^ Lyness, J.M. (1997), p. 10
  7. ^ Hampel, H.; Teipel, S.J.; Kotter, H.U.; et al. (1997). Structural magnetic resonance imaging in diagnosis and research of Alzheimer's disease. Nervenarzt, 68, 365-378.
  8. ^ Townsend, B.A.; Petrella, J.R.; Doraiswamy, P.M. (2002). The role of neuroimaging in geriatric psychiatry. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 15, 427-432.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g The Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2005). Careers info for School leavers. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  10. ^ a b American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. (5 March 2007). ABPN Certification - Subspecialties. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  11. ^ a b c d e f (Unknown last update). Student Information. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  12. ^ 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 (1): 33–40. PMID 11975061. 
  • Stout, E. (1993). From the Other Side of the Couch: Candid Conversations with Psychiatrists and Psychologists. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

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