What is a psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist is a 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 doctor and can prescribe medication.
A psychologist is not a 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:
- severe depression
- anxiety disorders, like panic attacks and phobias
- bipolar disorders
- eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia
- drug and alcohol, or gambling addictions
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD
- obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD
- post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
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.
How to find a psychiatrist?
Visit your doctor 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.
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?
Last reviewed: May 2016