Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Psychiatrists and psychiatry

3-minute read

If you have a mental illness, or are not coping well with things, a psychiatrist might be the right person to speak to. Psychiatrists are doctors who are experts at diagnosing and treating mental health problems.

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has done extra training to become a specialist in mental health.

Many people get confused by the differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist.

Both are health professionals who can care for people with mental health problems. Both have had years of education and training.

The main difference is that a psychiatrist has trained as a medical doctor and can prescribe medication.

A psychologist is not a medical doctor and can't prescribe medication.

Both can look after people with mild and moderate problems. But while psychiatrists often treat people with the most serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, a psychologist would have a smaller role in their care.

Psychiatrists work in hospitals, clinics and with community mental health services, as well as in private practice.

Many, but not all, psychiatrists are registered with the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP). They must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). You can check their registration at the AHPRA website.

What do psychiatrists do?

Psychiatrists diagnose and treat people with a mental illness or a mental disorder, such as:

Psychiatrists work in different ways and can use a combination of treatments, including counselling, psychotherapy and medication. It’s important that you find one that suits you.

Do I need a psychiatrist?

You might need to see a psychiatrist if:

  • your condition is severe
  • it has lasted a long time, or continues to come back
  • other treatment isn’t working
  • you are thinking about self-harm or suicide
  • your doctor believes you should see one.

To speak to someone urgently, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, SANE on 1800 18 7263, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

How to find a psychiatrist?

Visit your doctor (GP) if you feel you need to see a psychiatrist, or you are a carer of someone who might. Your doctor will usually choose one for you.

Read more here about speaking to your doctor about mental health.

You can search for a psychiatrist using RANZCP’s Find a psychiatrist directory, or healthdirect's service finder.

Medicare covers some of the costs of seeing a psychiatrist if you have a referral or a mental health plan from your doctor. Private health insurance doesn’t cover the costs unless you’re in hospital. Ask about the psychiatrist’s fees before making an appointment.

You can also get more information on where to get help here.

Choosing a psychiatrist

If you have a choice between several different psychiatrists, questions to ask them include:

  • How can you help me?
  • How many sessions do I need?
  • How often do I need to see you?
  • How much do you charge?

You can also use the Question Builder tool to create your question list for the appointment. Prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

Last reviewed: October 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Psychiatrists - BluePages

Psychiatrists are medical specialists who treat mental health problems. They generally only treat people who have severe or long-lasting problems.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Find a psychiatrist | Your Health in Mind

Information in this directory is provided by individual psychiatrists

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

What's a psychiatrist? | Your Health in Mind

Find a psychiatrist near you Search by location, treatments, specialty and more

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Cost to see a psychiatrist (Australia) | Your Health in Mind

Psychiatrist and psychologist Two different mental health professionals

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Seeing a psychiatrist online | Your Health in Mind

Find a psychiatrist near you Search by location, treatments, specialty and more

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Making a complaint about a psychiatrist | Your Health in Mind

Find a psychiatrist near you Search by location, treatments, specialty and more

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Psychiatrists and psychologists: what's the difference? | Your Health in Mind

What it's like to see a psychiatrist Find out what exactly happens in an appointment and how you can prepare

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Psychiatrists | Professional help | ReachOut Australia

Psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in mental health. They can prescribe medication and provide psychological therapy. A GP can give you a referral to see one.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

How a psychiatrist can help your child | Raising Children Network

A psychiatrist can help if your child has an emotional problem like severe anxiety or depression or another mental illness. Find out more.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Psychiatrists and Psychologists? | Understanding Anxiety

The short video clip above features Associate Professor Rocco Crino from Charles Sturt University. Rocco Crino is a practising Clinical Psychologist with a

Read more on WayAhead Mental Health Association NSW website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo