- As medical doctors, all psychiatrists must attend medical school and complete four years of residency. Psychiatrists must be licensed physicians, meaning they have to pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) as well as any specialization exams necessary for their field or state. They are qualified to prescribe medications, order hospitalization and treat and diagnose medical conditions that can cause mental or emotional disorders, as well as those that mimic those conditions.
- If desired, a psychiatrist can seek certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Board certification is considered the highest level of professional achievement and enhances the psychiatrist's professional credentials. While it is not necessary to have a board certification for a psychiatrist to practice, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, many facilities are listing it as a requirement for psychiatrists wishing to practice in the facility. Insurance companies are also beginning to require that policyholders seek help from board-certified psychiatrists to have claims paid, which affects psychiatrists in private practice as well as those working on teams in medical facilities.
- Psychiatrists diagnose emotional and mental disorders through interviews with the patient. The patient is asked for a personal and medical history, current list of symptoms and other information the psychiatrist feels is pertinent to the case. If the psychiatrist feels it is necessary, medical tests administered at hospitals or clinics, such as MRI scans and blood work, are ordered to aid the diagnostic process. Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan is created.
- According to the American Psychiatric Association, psychiatrists have several options to treat common mental and emotional disorders in patients. Psychiatrists can use psychotherapy, which is discussing the patient's behavior and emotions. Some disorders, such as clinical depression or certain anxiety disorders, are biological in origin and treated with medication. Both modes of treatment can be used at the same time--medication being prescribed to ease the main symptoms while psychotherapy is applied to mediate the root causes of the disorder.
- Psychiatrists who choose not to work with patients in a clinical setting can work instead in a research lab, studying causes of and potential new treatments for mental and emotional disorders. They can also teach at the university level instead of, or after, several years of practice. Some psychiatrists focus on writing, either for the general public or as teaching texts, or serve as editors for professional journals in psychiatry.