What is a Psychiatrist? Everything You Need to Know

By: Updated: May 25, 2021

One out of five Canadians will experience some kind of mental health disorder or addiction problem in any given year.

Seeking help when you feel you have a behavioral, emotional, or mental issue can be tough. However, receiving treatment for your condition can help you heal, grow, and live the best life you can live.

People often refer to therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists interchangeably. However, there are important differences that determine the type of treatment you'll receive.

What is a psychiatrist? Let's take a look at everything you need to know.


What is a Psychiatrist? A Psychiatrist Definition

A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner. They specialize in psychiatry, which is a branch of medicine that focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, behavioral, and emotional conditions and disorders.


What is the Difference between a Psychologist and Psychiatrist?

You might hear people using the terms psychologist and psychiatrist interchangeably, but they are actually two different professions. While they have some similarities in that they are both focused on diagnosing and treating mental health issues.

Psychologists are people that have received an advanced degree, such as a PsyD or Ph.D. They use different forms of talk therapy in order to treat mental health issues. They also might act in the form of a consultant along with other medical providers.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, have a medical degree with a specialty in psychiatry in addition to advanced qualifications from residency. They use a combination of medications, talk therapy, and other treatments in order to treat individuals that have mental health disorders.


What do Psychiatrists do?

Psychiatrists can work in a number of different settings. These include:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Prisons
  • University medical centers
  • Hospice programs
  • Rehabilitation programs
  • Nursing homes
  • Psychiatric hospitals

They will often treat people that have mental health issues that require the use of medication. Some of the mental health disorders a psychiatrist might treat include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders like GAD and OCD
  • Major depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

There are a number of different ways that mental health conditions can be diagnosed by psychiatrists. These include one-on-one evaluations, psychological tests, and lab tests to determine whether symptoms are caused by physical issues.

Once a psychiatrist has determined the diagnosis for an individual, they might prescribe medication, refer the person to a psychotherapist, or a combination of the two.

There is a variety of different types of medication that a psychiatrist might prescribe depending on the individual and the mental health condition they are suffering from. These might be stimulants, sedatives, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications, or other types of medication.

Once an individual is taking medication, a psychiatrist is tasked with monitoring the person to see if the medicine is producing side effects or if there are signs of improvement. They might make changes to the type of medication or the dosage depending on whether or not the medicine is helping the individual's disorder improve.

There are a number of other types of therapy that a psychiatrist might prescribe, including light therapy and electroconvulsive therapy.


Can a Psychologist refer you to a Psychiatrist?

Yes, a psychologist can refer individuals to psychiatrists. Both the psychologist and the psychiatrist can then work together in the treatment of the patient's symptoms.


How to find a Psychiatrist that is right for you

There are a number of different factors you might consider when choosing a psychiatrist. It's important that you find a provider that you feel comfortable with and that you trust.

Some of the things you might want to consider before making a decision include:

  • Their experience and treatment preferences
  • Their credentials
  • Whether you'd be comfortable with a male or female psychiatrist
  • Whether they offer telehealth as an option
  • Their communication style
  • Whether they take your insurance

You can ask for referrals from medical professionals or friends and family as well as read reviews online to learn more about the different providers in your area.


How to Get the Most Out of Your Psychiatrist Appointment

If you show up to your appointment unprepared, you might not get as much out of it as you'd like. There are a number of things you'll want to think about before you arrive at the office to ensure that you get the help you need.

Firstly, you'll want to be honest about any other medications or substances you use. The medication that psychiatrists prescribe can be quite powerful and can interact with other medications or substances.

Honesty is key in a number of different aspects of the process. You'll want to be honest about your mood, your priorities, and your experience.

You can also get the most out of your psychiatrist appointment if you are also receiving talk therapy at the same time. Consider finding a psychologist or therapist in the same office so that they can work together to help you heal.

(Wondering how Olympia Benefits works? You can learn more here.)


What Does a Psychiatrist Do for Anxiety?

Every patient is different, and psychiatrists will customize your treatment in a way that they believe will most benefit you. Some of the ways that a psychiatrist can help with anxiety include:

  • Diagnosing an anxiety disorder
  • Talking with you about your issues and concerns
  • Providing treatment such as medication or therapy
  • Coming up with a plan to help you manage anxiety
  • Keeping track of your physical health and any medication side effects
  • Diagnosing and treating any other co-occurring mental health issues, such as substance abuse or depression
  • Provide referrals to other health professionals, such as psychologists

Psychiatrists can help treat your anxiety issues and refer you to other professionals if need be.


Are Psychiatrists Medical Doctors?

Yes, psychiatrists are medical doctors. They attend medical school and specialize in mental health.


Can I Go to a Psychiatrist Without a Referral?

You typically need a referral to see a psychiatrist. However, you often don't need one to see a psychologist. Both a psychologist and your doctor can give you a referral to see a psychiatrist.


Do Psychiatrists Do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

A psychiatrist might provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but it isn't a given. Psychotherapists provide talk therapy, and CBT is an increasingly popular form of talk therapy.


How Long Do Psychiatrist Appointments Last?

A typical appointment with a psychiatrist will last somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. When you have your initial intake appointment, it might take one to two hours.


Should I Consult a Psychiatrist?

There is no shame in meeting with a mental health professional if you feel like you are suffering from behavioral, emotional, or mental issues. You'll want to talk with your doctor about whether you would be better served by seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist.


Can a Psychiatrist Prescribe Medication?

Yes, psychiatrists can prescribe medication as they have a medical degree. Psychologists, on the other hand, cannot prescribe medication.


How to Find a Psychiatrist Covered By Insurance

Mental health treatment is covered by a number of health insurance plans. You will want to take a look at your plan benefits to find out whether or not behavioral health is covered under your current health care plan.

If you find that you do have behavioral health coverage, you will want to look into the details for more information. Important questions that you will want to determine the answer to include:

  • The percentage of coverage
  • How many sessions insurance will cover
  • Whether you need to be referred form a primary care doctor
  • The costs of in-network versus out-of-network

You can then take a number of different routes to find a psychiatrist that is covered by your insurance.

First, you can call the insurance benefits office or look online to determine which providers in your area are covered by your plan. If you already have a psychiatrist that you are hoping to work with, you can call their office and ask if they take the insurance you have.

(Interested in learning more about Canadian health and dental plans? Check out this quick guide to health and dental insurance in Canada.)


Are You Interested in Booking an Appointment With a Psychiatrist?

Now that you know the answer to "what is a psychiatrist?" you are well-equipped to decide which type of mental health professional might be best suited for your situation. If you are interested in seeing a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist, you will need to receive a referral from your doctor or a psychologist.

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