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What a psychiatrist does

Helping people
Treatments provided by a psychiatrist
Day-to-day work
The difference between psychiatrists and psychologists
Focus on an area of interest to you - subspecialties

Helping people 

Psychiatrists are specialist medical doctors who are experts in mental health.

As a psychiatrist, you will be able to help people throughout their recovery so they can reach their goals.

You could be helping someone who is:

  • feeling really sad, frightened, angry or feeling out of control
  • struggling with alcohol and drug issues
  • eating too much or not enough
  • having thoughts of hurting themselves or others
  • experiencing hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • dealing with trauma, violence, abuse or neglect
  • having big mood swings
  • sleeping a lot more or less
  • having relationship or job issues, family breakdowns, gambling and money problems
  • behaving in unusual ways.

Psychiatry allows you to see each person as a whole, taking into consideration their physical, social and mental wellbeing.

What is a psychiatrist? – fact sheet
Mental health professionals: who’s who? - fact sheet


Treatments provided by a psychiatrist

You will be able to provide a broad range of treatments, including:

  • general medical care, checking physical health and the effects of medication
  • psychological treatments (psychotherapy or talking therapy)
  • medication
  • brain stimulation therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Day-to-day work

Care for vulnerable people

You'll listen to and provide expert care for vulnerable people, their families and whānau.

It’s really such a privilege the level of trust that people give you to tell you about the most personal parts of their lives. For them to trust you and being able to help them is a big thing.’

Alison, psychiatry trainee

Manage mental health conditions

You'll prevent, diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

‘Research helps us better understand what treatments work for which patients. The evidence base for medications and therapies in psychiatry continues to grow. This knowledge allows you to offer treatments that are most likely to lead to the best outcomes for patients’. Stephen, psychiatrist

Work in a team

You'll lead teams of other doctors and health professionals.

‘I try to be one of the leaders in my clinical team, made up of doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers. I help the team to combine all of our strengths and skills, like an awesome clinical Voltron, to help the patients. We're a compassionate bunch and I love coming to work.’ Huan-Tzin, psychiatry trainee

Research and innovation

You'll conduct research to lead breakthroughs in psychiatry and mental health

‘We are in the cusp of something big that is going to evolve throughout the course of my career. It’s going to be very exciting to be sitting in the box seat as we get to unlock and better understand how the mind and brain works.’  Andrew, psychiatry registrar

Teaching and supervision

You'll help foster new generations of psychiatrists.

'Supervision provides a safe space to reflect on the interesting and complex work of psychiatry.' Stephen, psychiatrist

Leadership and advocacy

You'll be able to provide expert opinion to the community, government and courts.

‘Psychiatrists don’t only provide clinical work; our training in understanding people’s strengths as well as problems and additionally our knowledge of health and disease means that we can give expert opinion to government, the community and courts and advocate for improved services for people with mental health issues. So there is a huge range of important and exciting opportunities.’ Diane, psychiatrist


The difference between psychiatrists and psychologists

Both psychiatrists and psychologists understand how the brain works, our emotions, feelings and thoughts. They often work together as part of mental health teams.

The main difference is that psychiatrists attend medical school and become medical doctors before doing specialist training in mental health.

Because they are medical doctors, psychiatrists look at mental and physical symptoms, make diagnosis, and provide a range of therapies to treat all kinds of mental health conditions.

Psychologists treat mental health conditions with psychological treatments and can’t prescribe medication.

Psychiatrists and psychologists: what’s the difference? – fact sheet


Focus on an area of interest to you - subspecialties

Psychiatry is a diverse discipline that offers a number of fascinating career pathways.

Become an expert in forensic psychiatry to help courts decide on criminal responsibility, or help children and adolescents who are going through difficult times.

Subspecialties in psychiatry