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What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are experts in mental health. They specialise in diagnosing and treating people with mental illnesses.

To become a psychiatrist in Australia or New Zealand, a doctor must train for at least another 6 years after finishing medical school. Their medical training means that they understand both physical illnesses and mental illnesses.

Just as cardiologists are doctors who specialise in diseases of the heart, and oncologists are doctors who specialise in treating cancer, psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in mental health.

Which conditions can psychiatrists help with?

  Your health in mind
I am fortunate to have met a number of psychiatrists through my life. Some have placed me on a path of recovery through practical ideas, medication and talking things over. Some have offered advice and some have just been a friend to me when I needed one.

Evan Bichara – Consumer Advocate

Psychiatrists treat conditions such as:

  • depression
  • eating disorders (e.g. anorexia and bulimia)
  • bipolar disorders
  • schizophrenia
  • alcohol, drug and gambling addictions
  • anxiety disorders (e.g. panic attacks and phobias)
  • Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • personality disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

.More information on mental illnesses

How do psychiatrists treat people with mental illness?

Mental illness can happen because of a combination of factors. These factors can be biological (the way your brain works), psychological (how you think), or social (your relationships with other people). The different psychiatric treatments available tackle these different factors.

Psychiatrists use a range of treatments, including:

  • medications
  • psychotherapy (also called talking therapy or psychological treatment)
  • practical advice about lifestyle and behaviour.

Psychiatrists recommend the best treatment or treatments for each person. They will only recommend treatments that have been proven to be safe and effective. In some cases, a stay in hospital might also be recommended.

Treatments for mental illness aim to improve patients’ symptoms and help them to have a fulfilling, healthy lifestyle, with a feeling of optimism for the future.

Where do psychiatrists work?

Psychiatrists work in a variety of settings, including public or private clinics, community mental health services, or hospitals. Psychiatrists can also be involved in teaching and research.

How can I arrange to see a psychiatrist?

Visit our Seeing a psychiatrist page for information on where to start, and what seeing a psychiatrist is like. 

Are there different types of psychiatrists?

Some psychiatrists focus on a particular area, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, old age psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, or forensic psychiatry (relating to the law).

What's the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists?

Many people are confused about the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists, because the two often work together.

Psychiatrists are qualified medical doctors who have done extra training to become specialists in mental health. Psychologists have qualifications in psychology, but do not have medical training.

Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists can both offer psychological treatments to patients. However, psychiatrists, as medically trained doctors, can also provide medical care, prescribe medications, and admit people to hospital, if needed.
.More about the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists

What does the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists do?

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) is responsible for training, educating and representing psychiatrists in Australia and New Zealand. Its main roles are:

  • managing the training program that doctors go through to become psychiatrists
  • setting the professional standards that psychiatrists have to follow
  • making sure that psychiatrists keep their skills and knowledge up to date
  • working with government and other groups to improve mental health care.

.More about the RANZCP

Engagement with the community is a cornerstone of the RANZCP. Find out more about how we work with people with experience of mental illness and their carers on the Community engagement page.