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A psychiatrist (also archaically called an alienist) is a physician who specializes in psychiatry and is certified in treating mental disorders.[1] As part of their evaluation of the patient, psychiatrists are one of only a few mental health professionals who may 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, magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography scanning.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Psychiatry in the professional world

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD, DO, etc) who specialize in treating mental illness using the biomedical approach to mental disorders.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Psychiatrists can also go through training to conduct psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy, but it is their medical training that differentiates them from other mental health professionals.[How to reference and link to summary or text]


The field of psychiatry itself can be divided into various subspecialties.[2] These include:

Some psychiatric practitioners specialize in helping certain age groups; child and adolescent psychiatrists work with children and teenagers in addressing psychological problems.[2] Those who work with the elderly are called geriatric psychiatrists or geropsychiatrists.[2] Those who practice psychiatry in the workplace are called industrial psychiatrists in the US (occupational psychology is the name used for the most similar discipline in the UK).[2] 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.[2][3]

Other psychiatrists and mental health professionals in the field of psychiatry may also specialize in psychopharmacology, neuropsychiatry, eating disorders, psychosomatics, and early psychosis intervention.[2][3]

Professional requirements

Typically the requirements to become a psychiatrist are substantial but differ from country to country.[2][4]

In the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and other parts of the world, one must complete a medical degree.[5] 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.[2] The foundation programme allows students to experience the different specialties of medicine, as well as learn important attributes and qualities of becoming a doctor.[2] Upon completion, a student can apply for a Specialty Registrar (StR) in Psychiatry post to specialize in psychiatry.[2] Following acceptance, this specialized training will last for about 6 years, during which time the doctor must pass examinations for Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (MRCPsych). Upon successful completion of this specialist training, the doctor can then apply for Consultant posts.

In the U.S. and Canada one must first complete their Bachelor's degree, or in Québec complete a premedical course of study in Cégep.[4] Students may typically decide any major of their choice, however they must enroll in specific courses, usually outlined in a pre-medical program.[4] One must then apply to and attend 4 years of medical school in order to earn their M.D. or D.O. and to complete their medical education.[4] Following this, the individual must practice as a psychiatric resident for another four years (five years in Canada). Psychiatry residents are often required to complete at least four post-graduate months of internal medicine or pediatrics and two months of neurology during the first year.[4] After completing their training, psychiatrists take written and then oral board examinations.[4] The total amount of time required to complete post-baccalaureate work in the field of psychiatry in the United States is typically 8 to 9 years.

See also


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, 33.
  • Stout, E. (1993). From the Other Side of the Couch: Candid Conversations with Psychiatrists and Psychologists. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (Unknown last update). What is a Psychiatrist. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 The Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2005). Careers info for School leavers. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  3. 3.0 3.1 American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. (5 March 2007). ABPN Certification - Subspecialties. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 (Unknown last update). Student Information. Retrieved March 25, 2007, from
  5. Careers info for School leavers

External links