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How to Become a Psychiatrist

Psychiatry was founded in the late 1800s and was quite different then than it is now. Back then, treatment was only provided to patients in the worst of conditions and unable to function. It wasn’t until about 70 years ago that psychiatrists learned how to make use of more medicines and different treatments to aid more people.

Every year, millions of people are diagnosed with a mental illness. Who do those people go see to be diagnosed? They go see a psychiatrist to be diagnosed and treated for their mental illness. If you have an interest in how the human mind works and how mental illnesses can be treated and diagnosed, then read on to learn how to become a psychiatrist.

What Is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have gone through medical school and are able to treat, diagnose, and work on patients with mental health issues.

What does a psychiatrist do? Every day, a psychiatrist completes numerous tasks for their patients. They listen to them, observe their behavior, and try to figure out the right diagnosis for them. They can prescribe medications and also determine the best treatment plan for their patient.

Difference Between a Psychiatrist and Psychologist

Some people think a psychiatrist and psychologist do the same thing. In some cases, the jobs can be similar but they are also different.

A psychiatrist is a medically certified mental health professional who can treat, diagnose, and prescribe medications.

Psychologists are also mental health professionals, but they are not medically certified. They can provide talk therapy to patients and diagnose them with a mental illness. They are not able to do any other treatments or prescribe medications.

Associations to Join

While you start your career as a psychiatrist, you can look into joining different psychiatric associations. For example, you could join the American Psychiatric Association. Joining associations provides great benefits because you will be able to network with other psychiatrists and remain updated on current trends.

The American Psychiatric Association also hosts large events and meetings you can attend to connect with other psychiatrists, see what current medications are being released, and what treatments are being used. This is a great opportunity for you to advance your career and stay updated regarding the world of psychiatry.

Essential Psychiatrist Skills

On top of medical training, there are quite a few personal skills you need to succeed as a psychiatrist. The skills listed below make for a well-rounded psychiatrist who can perform their job effectively.

  • Logical thinking and problem solving
  • Analytical thinking
  • Being able to show compassion
  • Be emotionally resilient
  • Be an active listener

Knowing Different Mental Illnesses

Psychiatrists must possess the medical skills necessary to correctly diagnose a patient and treat them. Knowing different mental illnesses is a must. Some of the patients you will deal with will have:

  • Depression
  • Bi-Polar
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Treatment Plans

To treat patients successfully, you must know different types of treatment plans. Here are some of the plans:

  • Electroconvulsive Therapy
    • Also known as electric-shock therapy, this is used on patients who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It is normally used as a last resort if other treatment plans have not worked.
  • Psychosocial Interventions
    • These patients are treated without medicine through different therapies such as cognitive and behavioral therapies. The outcome is for patients to better control their moods.
  • Psychotherapy
    • Psychiatrists use this approach for patients who suffer from depression or schizophrenia. As part of this treatment, they use different cognitive therapies for a patient to be aware of what is in their mind and how it all links together. This is also commonly known as talk therapy.

Medications to Know

In case you must prescribe medication to a patient, you must know what each medication does and what it is used for.

  • Antidepressants
    • For people who suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, etc.
  • Antipsychotics
    • For people who suffer from schizophrenia or people who may have hallucinations
  • Mood stabilizers
    • For people who suffer from bipolar disorder
  • Stimulants
    • For people who suffer from ADD/ADHD to help them focus
  • Hypnotics/sedatives and anxiolytics
    • Hypnotics are prescribed to people who need help sleeping 
    • Sedatives and anxiolytics are given to people who have anxiety and insomnia

Psychiatrist Salaries and Job Outlook

Psychiatrists make great money when they start their careers. During their residency, they make an average of $59,000 per year. After you finish your residency, the low end of the pay scale is $149,000 per year. The average salary a psychiatrist makes in the United States is $208,000 per year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be a 15.8 percent increase in jobs for psychiatrists between by 2028. A psychiatrist can specialize in many different areas depending on their interests. Some of those areas are:

  • Child Psychiatry
    • A child psychiatrist works with patients under the age of 18 to treat disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.
  • Military Psychiatry
    • A military psychiatrist works with people in the military who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, etc.
  • Addiction Psychiatry
    • An addiction psychiatrist works with patients who have addictions to drugs, sex, gambling, etc.
  • Psychiatric Research
    • Someone who does research on different mental health topics and tries to find new treatment plans, trends, and medications that can be tested in the field for psychiatrists
  • General Psychiatry
    • A general psychiatrist works with patients in all areas and treats them for mental illnesses, PTSD, addiction, and more. They are able to handle patients from all different fields and treat them effectively

How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

It takes 12 years to become a psychiatrist. You must get a four-year bachelor's degree, then go to medical school for four years, then complete four years of a residency.

How to Become a Psychiatrist: A Step by Step Guide

Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step is to get a bachelor’s degree. Most psychiatrists get an undergraduate degree in psychology, human services, pre-med, or some science-related field such as biology or chemistry since they have to go on to medical school.

Choose a school based on the best programs and what you can afford financially. Here are some schools with the best programs for an undergraduate degree in psychology.

Step 2: Go to Medical School

After completing your undergrad, you will then go on to medical school and obtain a medical degree. In medical school, you will learn about the different areas of psychiatry you can get into, different types of medicines, and which psychological tests to use on patients. Toward the end of medical school, you will have to take and pass an exam to receive board certification allowing you to practice psychiatry.

Here are the best schools to get your medical degree in psychiatry.

Step 3: Complete a Medical Residency

After medical school, you must complete a residency. During your four-year residency, you will take the knowledge you learned in the past eight years of school and put it to the test. You will be working with other mental health professionals in a hospital setting as you treat patients.

Step 4: Starting Your Career

After your medical residency, you will start your career. You have gone through all the proper training to start treating patients on your own. Psychiatrists work in clinics, hospitals, private practices, and rehab programs.

Should You Become a Psychiatrist?

If working with patients suffering from mental illnesses is something that interests you, then this might be the right career path for you.

Becoming a psychiatrist does take time and effort, but if this interests you and is something you see yourself doing, then take the initiative and go to school.


How long does it take to become a psychiatrist?
It takes 12 years to become a psychiatrist. This includes an undergraduate degree, medical school, and a residency.
Is a psychiatrist the same thing as a psychologist?
No. A psychiatrist is a medically certified mental health professional who can treat patients, prescribe medications, and diagnose mental illnesses. A psychologist can only provide talk therapy and diagnose a mental illness.
How much can I make as a psychiatrist?
On average, you can make $208,000 per year.
Are there different areas of psychiatry?
Yes. You can do general psychiatry, military psychiatry, addictions psychiatry, and more.
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