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What Does a Clinical Psychiatrist Do?

By Anna B. Smith
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A clinical psychiatrist works with patients to help overcome social, mental, and behavioral disorders through therapy, behavior modification, and the prescription of medicine. Individuals interested in this profession must complete an advanced degree in medicine, and complete a medical residency focused on the treatment of mental health disorders. This type of position may be utilized in a private practice, a hospital, or by a research university.

Training to become a clinical psychiatrist usually involves the completion of secondary school and a four year university degree in biology pre-medicine. Once these entry level qualifications have been met, the prospective student may then proceed on to obtain a medical degree. To advance from practicing general medicine to focusing specifically on psychiatry, the student must then complete four years of residency in a medical mental health program. Psychiatrists may then choose to hone their expertise, if they so desire, in one specific area of mental health, such as pediatrics, adolescents, or geriatrics, and may complete an additional two or more years working in that particular field.

A clinical psychiatrist is typically able to prescribe medications to his patients due to his medical degree. Psychiatrists differ from psychologists in this area, in that psychologists usually focus on behavior modifications and are unable to require their patients to take medicine. Psychiatrists also use different therapy techniques and behavior modifications, but are able to supplement these different types of treatment with medication when necessary.

To practice in a given area, a clinical psychiatrist must have a medical license and a local mental health certification. The medical license is usually obtained from the regional governing medical authority, such as a state or national board. Local certification to practice psychiatry specifically is available through those national agencies which are recognized and accepted by the employer. For example, in the US, practicing psychiatrists are required to be certified by the American Psychiatric Association.

Psychiatrists may choose to practice medicine privately or become part of a larger mental health organization. Doctors frequently open one practice together and each specialize in a different area of mental health. They may also use different techniques to engage their patients, such as individual sessions or group therapies. Working in this type of environment is often beneficial to psychiatrists in that they may recommend patients to one another if it becomes apparent that the needs of individual patients are outside their area of expertise.

Doctors may alternately choose to work in research and university settings. Many research clinics are affiliated with larger universities from which they receive their funding. Psychiatrists employed in this type of role often handle a variety of responsibilities which may include meeting with individual patients, lecturing students enrolled in psychiatric university courses, and conducting research. Areas of research can range from behavioral studies in particular disorders to chemical interactions for new behavior modification drugs.

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