What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More


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Psychiatrists are physicians who diagnose and treat people for mental illnesses. They use a variety of modalities to provide treatment including psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication. Psychiatrists see patients who come to their offices or are hospitalized. 

Psychiatrist Duties & Responsibilities

Psychiatrists’ job duties and responsibilities include:

  • Referring a patient for psychological testing to determine a diagnosis and its severity
  • Recommending and designing a treatment plan
  • Talking to the patients’ about their problems to try to resolve them (psychotherapy or talk therapy)
  • Exploring the patients’ past experiences to learn how they affect their current state of mind and behavior (psychoanalysis)
  • Helping patients change their thought processes and behavior (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT)
  • Prescribing medication that can alter chemical imbalances affecting the patient’s state of mind and behavior

    Psychiatrists perform these duties to help their patients recover from mental illnesses or manage their symptoms.

    Psychiatrist Salary

    Psychiatrists’ earnings vary with experience and location. They earn a mean annual salary of at least $220,380. Psychiatrists are not the highest paid of all physicians nor are they the lowest.

    Education, Training, & Certification

    Psychiatrists attend medical school after earning a bachelor’s degree. Upon completion of medical school, they do a psychiatry residency in a hospital.

    • College: Students who are on a pre-med track should choose a major that allows them to complete coursework in biology, general and organic chemistry, math, English, and statistics.
    • Medical School: After earning a bachelor’s degree, all aspiring physicians must spend four years at a Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) or American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) accredited medical school. Admission requirements include earning a very high grade point average (GPA) in college, excellent performance on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and strong leadership and communication skills. Medical school applicants must also submit a personal statement. Those who attend LCME-accredited schools become MDs (Medical Doctors) and those who go to COCA-accredited schools become DOs (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine). 
    • Residency: After graduating from medical school, aspiring psychiatrists must spend at least four years doing a residency that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). During the first year, psychiatric residents care for patients with a variety of illnesses and then, over the remainder of their tenure—usually three years—learn how to diagnose and treat people with mental illnesses. Upon completion, one can elect to train in a subspecialty such as addiction, child and adolescent, geriatric, military, and community and public health psychiatry.
    • Board Certification: After finishing a psychiatric residency, one can apply for board certification from The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).
    • License: All doctors, including psychiatrists, must get a state-issued license to practice medicine. This requires passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for MDs or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) for DOs.

    Psychiatrist Skills & Competencies

    A psychiatrist, in addition to the professional skills acquired in medical school and on their residency, needs the following abilities:

    • Interpersonal Skills: A psychiatrist must be able to establish rapport with a patient and gain their trust.
    • Communication Skills: They need excellent speaking and listening skills to work with patients and their families as well as other healthcare providers.
    • Critical Thinking: Psychiatrists must weigh the merits of different treatments and decide how to best help their patients.
    • Monitoring: They must evaluate their patients’ response to treatment and make changes as needed.
    • Integrity: Psychiatrists, like all doctors, must honor the confidentiality of all interactions with their patients.

      Job Outlook

      Psychiatrists have an excellent job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for psychiatrists is expected to grow by 11%, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is expected to be slightly slower than it will be for other specialties like anesthesiology, family and general practice, and internal medicine. 

      Work Environment

      Psychiatrists work in private practices, general and psychiatric hospitals, and nursing homes.

      Work Schedule

      The hours are usually full-time. Psychiatrists are often on-call to respond to emergencies.

      How to Get the Job

      APPLY: APA JobCentral lists jobs for psychiatrists and others in the psychiatric field. The New England Journal of Medicine also advertises employment opportunities for psychiatrists at NEJM CareerCenter.

      WRITE A TARGETED RESUME: Learn how to write a medical curriculum vitae (CV).

      Comparing Similar Jobs

      People interested in becoming psychiatrists should explore the following occupations, listed here with their annual median salaries: