While you probably know a psychiatrist's day-to-day-life doesn't really resemble famous televisions psychiatrists such as Dr. Lainey Winters on General Hospital, you may not know the full nature and scope of a psychiatrist's duties. A clinical psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who is trained to diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse disorders. Nonclinical psychiatrists work in research and academic settings studying and predicting human behavior in controlled environments.
All psychiatrists conduct or review relevant research. Psychiatrists working for colleges, universities, the government or private research facilities conduct their own, original research, which involves gathering data, analyzing it for trends and publishing papers describing its significance. Psychiatric research includes studying how biochemical, biological, psychological or social factors predict human behavior. A typical research project, for example, might evaluate the effectiveness of using a new type of drug in the treatment of a psychiatric disorder, such as depression. While clinical psychiatrists don't typically conduct their own research, they must stay abreast of current research findings and trends to apply these principles to their everyday treatment of patients.
You have to be a good detective to be a good psychiatrist. Often, you get referrals from other physicians in which they couldn't find any physical cause for their patient's symptoms or cases too complicated for a general practitioner to treat. A psychiatrist conducts a thorough background interview, talks to the patient's friends and family members and reads through psychological, medical and school or work evaluations if applicable, to help determine a correct behavioral-health diagnosis.
Although Dr. Lainey Winters may appear to be conducting therapy with her patients on General Hospital, most psychiatrists do not, in fact, conduct therapy with patients. Because they are medical doctors, psychiatrists focus their treatment on prescribing and managing medications that treat behavioral health problems. After prescribing a psychiatric medication, such as lithium, for example, a psychiatrist will monitor her patient to assess the benefit and side effects of lithium. Over time, the dose of the medication might be adjusted or a new medication might be substituted if the old one proves ineffective or has too many side effects.
Regardless of the type of work psychiatrists do, they are responsible to educate both the public and their professional colleagues on the principles of psychiatry and behavioral health. Psychiatrists working for universities give lectures and write journal articles to explain their research. Clinical psychiatrists explain to their patients, in layperson's terms, what their diagnosis is, what treatments they advocate, what are the alternatives, and explain the benefits and side effects of the advocated treatment.
- Psychology Today: Good Psychiatrists Should . . .
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- American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology Inc.,: Psychiatry
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- University of Colorado School of Medicine: Psychiatric Residency
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