A psychiatrist is a physician who treats mental illness. The types of illnesses treated by psychiatrists include clinical depression, bipolar disorder (manic depression), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), drug and alcohol abuse, and many more. Mental illnesses that are categorized as psychoses involve chemical imbalances in the brain that require medication in addition to behavioral therapy. The psychiatrist is trained as a physician and is therefore qualified to prescribe the appropriate medication, but is also trained to administer behavioral therapies. In addition, psychiatrists often work cooperatively with psychologists (specialists who do not have an M.D. [Doctor of Medicine] degree).

Psychiatrists work in a variety of settings. Most hospitals employ psychiatrists to service the psychiatric ward and the emergency room. In addition, psychiatric hospitals (specializing in the care of the mentally ill) and detoxification facilities (specializing in the care of recovering addicts) rely on psychiatrists to administer treatment to their patients. Many psychiatrists also work in private practices, and some are employed by state governments to administer psychiatric treatment to prison inmates.

A psychiatrist must complete four years of medical school and a four-year residency in the field of psychiatry. A strong background in the sciences and math is an absolute requirement for medical school, and additional background in psychology is useful preparation for a career in psychiatry. High school and undergraduate courses in biology and psychology (specifically neuropsychology classes that discuss the link between brain function and behavior) allow one to explore one's interest level in this field. Strong interpersonal skills and compassion are essential qualities of a good psychiatrist.

SEE ALSO Doctor, Specialist ; Psychiatric Disorders, Biology OF

Susan T. Rouse


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