BeWell Health Clinic

What is a Psychiatrist and How can They Help You?

what is a psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They treat patients suffering from issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, trauma, addiction, and other forms of mental illness. Psychiatrists employ various methods to treat different patients in their care. Such practices include psychotherapy, group or individual counselling, medications, and sometimes hospitalization. They partner with other healthcare practitioners to provide holistic care to promote their patients’ recovery.


The Educational Path to Becoming a Psychiatrist


The rigorous nature of psychiatric work demands that psychiatrists acquire a significantly high level of education.  Depending on medical specialty, medical students may spend close to 12 years in academics and clinical training. Doctors must attend medical school and also complete a residency before they can practice.


Medical school

Because a psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in mental health, a medical school degree is a prerequisite to getting a license and practicing. Before joining a medical school, students must complete a four-year bachelor's or undergraduate degree. Any degree is acceptable, but a majority of medical schools require one year of organic chemistry, general chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus. 


At least 11 out of 17 medical schools in Canada require the Medical College Admission Test. The Association of American Medical Colleges sets the test. Students need to start preparing for the test early because on average, the accepted applicants score 511 points out of 528 points.


After the test, an application is sent to the chosen medical school(s). While applying, students will need to gather reference letters and go through intense interviews. To beat the stiff competition, many students apply to several schools. Ontario medical schools process initial applications through the web-based Ontario Medical School Application Service. 


After being accepted to medical school, future doctors will spend four years studying before they graduate with their medical degree. High grades increase the chance of landing a good residency. The degree is a document from the university, and not a license, therefore, a graduated doctor cannot practice medicine until they complete a residency.




During the final year in medical school, students apply for their postgraduate psychiatric residency, processed by the Canadian Resident Matching Service. Also, they must obtain postgraduate education certification from the provincial medical authority in the province where they plan to practice their residency. 


A psychiatric residency is usually in a hospital setting and lasts five years. During residency, doctors will receive training in diagnosis, mental health treatment, psychopharmacology, and different areas of medical care outside of psychiatry. After completing residency, doctors can apply for a psychiatric medical certification to enable them to start practicing.


Specializing in Mental Health


Mental wellness psychiatrists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with behavioral and emotional health issues. They are also able to prescribe drugs to their patients.


During their residency, psychiatrists will gain experience in various psychiatry niches that they may want to pursue later at an advanced level. After completing residency, they have to pass a written and oral exam. Then they can apply for board certification. The board certification allows you to practice as a licensed psychiatrist. 


If a psychiatrist chooses to specialize in a subfield, they will require training, also known as a fellowship, for between one and two years. A fellowship allows them to specialize in one subfield of psychiatry. As a clinical psychiatrist, specializations could be in bipolar disorder, stress, depression, ADHD, or anxiety for example. With their license, they can either practice alone in private practice, partner with other physicians and psychologists or work in a hospital.


The Role of Pharmacology in Mental Health Treatment


Pharmacology refers to the use of medications to treat or manage mental disorders. Psychiatrists often use medicines in the treatment of mental illness as a complementary treatment plan to make psychotherapy and other treatments more effective. Combining drugs with behavioural therapy and counselling provides a holistic solution to mental disorders. It can treat diseases successfully and help sustain healing.


Psychiatric medications act on the brain chemicals responsible for regulating your thought patterns and emotions. They do not necessarily always cure mental illnesses, but they significantly improve the symptoms and allow the successful utilization of other treatment plans. For example, medication can alleviate symptoms of depression, such as poor concentration and low energy to enable you to participate in talk therapy.


Some types of psychiatric medications work fast and produce results quickly, but most work slowly. Often, you will need to be on medication for some weeks before your improvement becomes noticeable. Also, your mental illness may require a combination of drugs. Many people do not experience any side effects, or the reaction may disappear after a few weeks. However, if the side effects continue, changing the dosage or the medication will help. 


While psychiatric medication is used in some cases as short-term support, sometimes it becomes long-term or lifelong. To stop the medication, your doctor has to taper it off properly to allow your brain chemicals to adapt to the change gradually. A sudden stop of medicine can result in severe side effects.


Common Medications That Psychiatrists Prescribe


The best prescription for your mental condition will depend on the reason for the medication and your body’s response to the medication. The most common categories of prescription medication for psychiatric treatment include:


·         Antidepressants: These are drugs that doctors use to mainly treat anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorders, and depression. They help manage symptoms such as a lack of energy, loss of interest in various activities, poor concentration, hopelessness, and sadness. The drugs are non-addictive; therefore dependency does not occur.

·         Anti-anxiety medications: Also known as anxiolytics, your psychiatric physician will prescribe these drugs if you are suffering from anxiety disorders. They are also useful in reducing insomnia and agitation. Anti-anxiety medicines for long-term use are usually antidepressants that also treat anxiety. Anti-anxiety drugs that provide rapid relief are only suitable for short-term use because they are addictive and could potentially cause dependence.

·         Mood stabilizing medications: Drugs to stabilize your mood are most common in the treatment of bipolar disorders, which involve alternating episodes of depression and mania. Your doctor can sometimes combine antidepressants with mood stabilizers to treat you for depression.

·         Antipsychotic medications: These drugs are usually used mainly in the treatment of psychotic disorders and sometimes in bipolar disorders. They can also treat depression when you use them with antidepressants. 

·         Depressants: These are medicines that slow down your brain activity and become more effective in treating panic, anxiety, sleep disorders, and stress reactions.

·         Stimulants: These are drugs that stimulate your central nervous system to increase arousal, endurance, and attention. They treat narcolepsy and ADHD.


The Evolution of Psychiatry


Psychiatry became a medical specialty during the early 1800s. However, for a century, psychiatry was only about individuals with severe disorders who were confined to hospitals or asylums. They were either psychotic or suffering from what we now consider as medical conditions such as seizures, brain tumors, or dementia. 


In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud, a neurologist put theories forward about the unconscious causes of mild disorders. The disorders impaired daily activities and produced unusual indications such as paralysis that had no medical explanation. Freud treated the neurotic patients through psychoanalysis, which later became the first method of psychiatric treatment.


In the 1950s and 1960s, doctors began the use of medication in psychiatry. New antidepressants were developed to treat severely depressed patients.  In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) with radical revisions, which is the first version of this text that became the gold standard in psychiatry. The reason was to allow psychoanalytic and biological psychiatrists to improve the reliability of psychiatric drugs. Psychoanalysis therapies were neither scientific nor specific. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies were researching drugs to minimize side effects.


Pharmaceutical innovation finally paid off. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) were created and they were medically safer and more tolerable than previous antidepressants. Clinical psychologists pushed for the application of cognitive and behavioral psychotherapy. The physicians diagnosed and categorized emotional complaints by defining the symptoms. In the 1990s, evidence-based medicine started replacing dynamic and analytic therapies. 


Currently, psychiatry is a branch of medicine that has various specialties. Through psychiatry, many patients have access to a variety of treatment methods for both mild and severe mental difficulties. The available medications, combined with other treatment methods, have proved effective in treating diverse mental conditions.


Talk to a Psychiatrist Near Me


Getting help for a mental illness is often difficult. Finding a mental health practitioner who understands your struggles can help you restore normalcy in your life. Whether you are battling stress, anxiety, ADHD, depression, or bipolar disorder, our team is willing to help you. Call us or book an appointment, and we will steer you to optimum mental health.

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