What is a psychiatrist? Their Types and Roles


Mental disorder is a psychological factor reflected in an individual's behavior that impacts their academic/professional lives, relationships with family and friends, and ability to participate in the community. Mental and behavioral disorders are found in people of all regions, countries, and societies and pose a significant threat to the global economy annually.

It may be associated with brain or nervous system functions and affect people of all ages and genders. Left untreated, the problem can develop into substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, unnecessary disability, and poor quality of life. Considering the consequences of untreated mental health and the burden it poses on society's economy, treating mental disorders is essential to help people manage their illnesses, overcome their disabilities and lead productive lives.

What is a Psychiatrist?

The American Institute of Psychiatry defines psychiatry as the branch of medicine focused on diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental and behavioral disorders. The term psychiatry was first coined in 1808 and, since then, has evolved. Currently, it is divided into three categories; mental illness, personality disorders, and severe learning disabilities, and it employs neuroimaging technologies to understand psychopathologic behaviors better.

A psychiatrist is a medically licensed professional specializing in psychiatric conditions who evaluate the mental health of individuals. Psychiatrists are often confused with psychologists though they are different fields.

Courts and institutions of the law, military settings, rehabilitation programs, and community agencies, including schools and colleges, are some exclusive areas included in the scope of psychiatrists.

Some of the main conditions addressed by psychiatrists are

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Autism and ADHD disorders

  • Bipolar Disorders

  • Major Depressive Disorders

  • Schizophrenia

In comparison, a psychologist is a professional dealing with psychotherapy, counseling, and related practices. As a part of their training program, psychologists need an undergraduate degree in any subject and a graduate degree in psychology with an internship or postdoctoral training period that lasts at least one year. Once they receive their license and meet the state requirements or specialization credentials, psychologists can provide counseling and psychotherapy as well as testing and treatment for mental disorders. However, they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications like psychiatrists.

Some of the chief conditions addressed by psychologists are

  • Addiction related disorders

  • Assessment of learning difficulties

  • Helping people with sleep difficulties

  • Addressing chronic pain conditions

  • Eating disorders

The scope of practice of psychologists is limited compared to psychiatrists, who have a much broader practice. If you are opting for psychiatry, you must know that it has many subspecialties that require additional fellowship training under the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology with Maintenance of Certification Program. These include the following.

Types of Psychiatrists

Addiction Psychiatrists

Evaluate, diagnose and treat people having more than one addiction disorder.

Disorders involving legal and illegal drugs, gambling, eating disorders, and other impulse control disorders are some of the chief components of addiction disorders.

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists

Child and adolescent psychiatrists are involved with diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental disorders in children, adolescents, and their families. Autism-related disorders, depression, and eating disorders in children or adults upto the age of 18 are addressed by them.


Neuropsychologists deal with the neurological part of psychiatry related to anxiety issues and overall patient behavior. Dementia, brain injury, and cognitive processing disorders, along with epilepsy and degenerative disorders, come into their domain.

Consultation-Liaison Psychiatrists

Consultation liaison psychiatrists deal with providing healthcare for medically ill patients and focus on the care of patients with comorbid psychiatric conditions. In addition, they are involved in clinical, research, and teaching activities concerned with healthcare.

Forensic Psychiatrist

Forensic psychiatrists provide scientific and clinical expertise about legal issues concerning civil, criminal, correctional, and legislative matters. They focus on diagnosing and treating mental disorders related to judiciary and help the offended and offenders deal with mental health issues during and after their trial.

Geriatric Psychiatrists

Geriatric psychiatrists deal with the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders in elderly patients and provide them with psychiatric care. Delirium, depression, and dementia are some of the chief aspects dealt with by geriatric psychiatrists with a psychiatric evaluation of chronic pain conditions associated with older individuals.

Psychiatrists related to Hospice and Palliative Care

Palliative psychiatrists focus on patients with severe persistent mental illness at risk of therapeutic neglect and/or overly aggressive care. Long-term residential care of patients with severe chronic schizophrenia, those with long-standing depression and repeated suicide attempts, and long-standing therapy-refractory anorexia nervosa are some of the areas covered by them.

The psychiatrists, as mentioned above, require additional training and certification by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). A few psychiatric aspects that do not require ABPN certification are

  • Emergency psychiatrists

  • Community Psychiatrists

  • Social Psychiatrists

  • Military psychiatrists

Role of a Psychiatrist

From college to medical school to residency, it takes 12 years to become a psychiatrist. Once their training has been completed, psychiatrists can practice in diverse settings, from general and psychiatric hospitals to nursing homes, university medical centers, and hospices. They can even opt for private practice.

Some of the chief roles of psychiatrists are


To reach an accurate diagnosis of the conditions, psychiatrists perform a thorough physical and mental examination of the individual. They conduct pathological and neurological assessments during their diagnostic evaluations.

Inpatient Treatment

In inpatient treatment, psychiatric patients are admitted to hospitals or clinics to receive psychiatric care.

Outpatient Treatment

In outpatient treatment, psychiatrists evaluate patients making periodic visits to their offices or outpatient clinics. Based on their evaluation, they can adjust the medication dose, review the effectiveness of current medications/ therapy and adjust the treatment plan if required.


Clinical and research psychiatrists play an essential role in recognizing and treating acute and transient psychotic disorders by applying new technologies and treatment methods.


Through counseling, psychiatrists help people help their emotional, social, and interpersonal problems through guidance techniques and short-term psychotherapy methods.


As per the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about one in five adults’ experiences mental illness each year. The problem intensifies when left untreated or after a time giving rise to complications like depression and PTSD and, at times, heightens to bipolar and schizophrenia tendencies in the individuals. In such conditions, psychiatrists play an important role in helping individuals live an everyday life through medication, neuromodulation, and psychotherapy measures.

Obtaining a medical degree in MBBS or MBChB is essential to becoming a certified psychiatrist. After five years of medical school, a psychiatrist should have specialized for 3 years in psychiatry training and have chosen a subspecialty of psychiatry for specialized treatment of mental health disorders. As per the study by the physician training group Merritt Hawkins, there are roughly nine psychiatrists in the United States per 100,000 people, and there is immense scope for psychiatrists to develop and grow while working for the betterment of society and mentally disabled people.