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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. Psychiatrists often treat people with the most serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and 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 Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

How do I 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 treatment 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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2019

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