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Psychiatry Series: What is a Psychiatrist?

Many people find themselves unsure about seeing a psychiatrist. This is partially due to the common myth that psychiatrists treat “crazy” people with prescription medications.

However, this is not the case at all and I would like to take some time to talk more about what psychiatrists ACTUALLY do and how they help their patients. To accomplish this, I am writing a four part series on psychiatry over the month of October.

Definition of Psychiatrist

For starters, we need to look at what psychiatrists are. Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in the correlation between physical and mental health. They focus on diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

One common source of confusion is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. For more information about the specific differences between these two types of mental health specialists, see our article on “The Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry and Why You May Need Both”.

Psychiatrist writing on clipboard with woman sitting on couch

Qualifications of a Psychiatrist

A key difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is that psychiatrists are medical doctors and psychologists are not. Because they are medical doctors, psychiatrists must attend medical school and pass a licensing exam to practice medicine.

They must then complete an additional four years of psychiatric residency. The first year of their psychiatric residency is often at a hospital working with psychiatric patients. The remaining three years of their residency are focused on the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.


Often times, the diagnosis of mental health conditions deals with both the physical and mental health of the individual. In most cases, psychiatrists will order medical laboratory tests to evaluate the physical health of their patient.

They will also perform psychological tests to evaluate the mental state of an individual. Taking into account a person’s physical health, mental state, genetics, and family history, psychiatrists can develop a diagnosis for a variety of mental health concerns.


While many people believe that psychiatrists only prescribe medications, they do offer other treatment alternatives including:

Brain wave concept
  • Psychotherapy: also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy treats a variety of mental health conditions by eliminating or controlling symptoms to help an individual function better.
  • Biofeedback/Neurofeedback: uses computers and electronic sensors to obtain information about the brain’s process that can be used to help the patient control their mind to improve function. For more information, see our article “Biofeedback & Neurofeedback: What is It and What Does It Treat?”
  • Light Therapy: often used to treat seasonal depression by providing additional light to improve mood.
  • Brain stimulation: electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and newer treatments such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be used to treat some mental disorders.

Of course, psychiatrists do prescribe medication when needed. Often times, the combination of medication and psychotherapy is a preferred treatment. Psychiatrists can prescribe the following medications:

  • Antidepressants: for depression, panic disorder, PTSD, anxiety, OCD, borderline personality disorder, and eating disorders
  • Antipsychotics: for treating delusions/hallucinations, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder
  • Sedatives and axiolytics: for anxiety and insomnia
  • Hypnotics: for inducing and maintaining sleep
  • Mood Stabilizers: for bipolar disorder
  • Stimulants: for ADHD

Overall, psychiatrists are highly skilled mental health and medical professionals that can provide their patients with comprehensive care. They offer a variety of treatments to manage mental health conditions and improve symptoms. Next week, we will start looking into different specializations psychiatrists can have.

Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability.  For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.