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Are you interested in what makes people tick? Or how and why people behave as they do? What about trying to help people get through bouts of depression? Sounds like you may be interested in a career as a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and emotional disorders, and act as consultants for other physicians. Many people turn to psychiatry because the brain, which controls how we think and behave, is an interesting phenomenon to study.

Psychiatrists study the relationship between the mind and the body and why in some people the two do not function in harmony. Many people confuse psychiatrists with psychologists, however a main difference is that psychiatrists are medical doctors, who can legally prescribe medicine and order or perform a number of laboratory tests. It helps to understand physical ailments in making sound judgments about mental illness, for in some patients there is a direct correlation.

Many people go to see a psychiatrist when they have problems with their personal or social life resulting from shyness, obsessive-compulsive disorders or anxiety; or due to a tragedy in their lives, such as a family death, drug abuse or a divorce. Also, people with more serious mental diseases such as depression or schizophrenia see psychiatrists because they have problems functioning in everyday society. People diagnosed with more serious illnesses are usually put on some form of medication to help control their actions. These medicines fight imbalances in brain chemistry and help to manage a particular disease.

Besides medications, psychiatrists use a wide variety of treatments, including psychotherapy, which is purely discussion time, and in severe cases hospitalization. In order to properly treat a patient, they must be diagnosed with a mental disorder. Psychiatrists define patients based on a diagnosis with psychology names such as anxiety disorder or manic depression. Yet, it is no easy task to diagnose a patient. They must take into consideration a number of factors that may contribute to psychological problems, such as social conditions as well as brain chemistry. A psychiatrist will usually work with a patient over a long period of time, recording various changes in their personality and behavior.

Many psychiatrists sub-specialize in a group or area of psychiatry, including geriatric psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry. All in all, whatever area they decide to specialize in, all psychiatrists must realize that the stigma involved in mental illness (for those who see a psychiatrist) and the severity of brain disorders must be taken very seriously. Psychiatrists must be well informed and sensitive to their patients in their approach.
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  Interests and Skills  
Psychiatrists must have the stamina and endurance involved in attending school for so many years including a life of learning. They must be sensitive, patient and compassionate, yet stern when counseling people with psychological problems. They are very observant and perceptive and really get to know their patients well in order to properly diagnose them. They are lie detectors and can get people to open up to them, which is a huge part of their job. Finally, psychiatrists are extremely analytical and have the ability to diagnose people properly.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Discuss mental and physical problems with patients and their families
  • Work with patients and their families to understand a patient's mental disorder
  • Study patients' medical and psychiatric histories
  • May examine the general physical condition of patients
  • Carry out tests and other diagnostic procedures on patients
  • Diagnose and treat patients with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders
  • Determine the nature and extent of the mental disorder and formulate a treatment program
  • Prescribes and administers medication, psychotherapy and other treatment, and rehabilitation programs
  • May educate trainee psychiatrists, other health professionals, families of patients and the wider community
  • May be involved in research into mental disorders and their treatments
  • May present opinions and evidence in court
  • May lead multi-disciplinary teams to provide psychiatric treatment
  • Psychiatrists work in clinical settings, either from a private clinic or practice to the hospital or at a university. They spend the majority of their time talking with and counseling patients in psychotherapy sessions. They usually work long hours, about a 60-hour week, with evenings and weekends to help accommodate patient's schedules. Some may also work at universities lecturing students or working on psychology research projects.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Psychiatrists work in private practices or in group psychiatry practices, or can be found in hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and university medical centers. They work at prisons and in the military or at universities and emergency rooms. They may also work in the court system.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Most psychiatrists remain with their position as it takes so long to establish a good practice and above all, go into the field because they are truly interested in helping people with mental and psychological conditions. Nevertheless, psychiatrists can learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. They may work in a sub-specialty area, become directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and psychology programs. They may conduct clinical research for pharmaceutical companies and may also write and publish results of such studies in scientific and medical journals. Also, psychiatrists could become mediators as they are good at listening, understand interpersonal relations and making informed decisions.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a psychiatrist requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most start with a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree. While in high school, take math and science classes as well as English. Also, some medical schools accept students with only a few years of undergraduate study coupled with good marks, therefore, check with the school for their requirements before applying.

Psychiatrists complete four years of medical school and then a year of internship before entering residency graduate education, which usually takes about four years.

Finally, before entering medical school, it is a good idea to volunteer in a hospital, shelter, nursing home or community center. This is a good way to gain valuable experience dealing with people who need help and to find out what it is like to work as a psychiatrist. Also, experience working with children, for example as a summer camp counselor, or volunteering at a day care may help you decide if you like working with children better.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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