Psychiatry is a specialty medical field focused on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders. The practice of psychiatry involves interventions targeting both the biological/physical level (e.g., prescribing psychotropic medications aimed at known brain processes) and the personal/psychological level (e.g., utilizing talk-based psychotherapies aimed at adjusting patterns in the mind). As the Michigan Psychiatric Society explains, psychiatry involves training in the “medical, psychological, and social components of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders,” and includes activities such as “diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, psychotherapy, and helping patients and their families cope with stress and crises.” Psychiatry features work which is often team-based and integrated with other health and mental health experts. Populations served and particular mental health problems treated by psychiatry both vary widely. There exists a variety of sub-field specialties as well, including these focus areas in which one can pursue board-certification: Addiction Psychiatry, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Pain Medicine, Psychosomatic Medicine / Consult Liaison, Sleep Medicine. More detail about some of these specialties is provided at the bottom of this page.

A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) who specialized in mental health. Just like other types of physicians (e.g., family doctor, internist, pediatrician, podiatrist, oncologist), a Psychiatrist attends medical school and is trained broadly in science and medicine before specializing. As such, Psychiatrists are people who tend to be fascinated by science and the human body, are eager to learn how to solve problems, are knowledgeable and detail-oriented, and value the application of their skills to tangible situations. The vast majority of Psychiatrists work in some form of applied practice where most of their time is spent treating patients, but there do exist teaching and research roles in academic settings or teaching-hospitals as well.

Psychiatrists work in a vast diversity of places. While hospitals and outpatient clinics are some of the most common, the American Psychiatric Association explains that Psychiatrists work in “a variety of settings, including private practices, clinics, general and psychiatric hospitals, university medical centers, community agencies, courts and prisons, nursing homes, industry, government, military settings, rehabilitation programs, emergency rooms, hospice programs, and many other places. About half of the psychiatrists in the U.S. maintain private practices and many psychiatrists work in multiple settings.” Wherever mental health care is occurring, Psychiatrists can be found!

Degree: To become a Psychiatrist, one must first complete a bachelor’s degree (usually a B.S. but sometimes a B.A.). Numerous majors would make an appropriate fit, including biochemistry, psychology, and others–the key thing is that a student chooses a pre-med curriculum. Next, one would need to complete a medical school program, earning either the M.D. or D.O. degree, both of which take 4 years. Next, one would need to match with a residency program specializing in psychiatric training, which tends to be another 4 years. As a psychiatric resident one is working as a doctor and is paid, but is continually supervised by other senior Psychiatrists. Lastly, following residency, one can pursue fellowship positions to gain additional specialty certification.
License: Most Psychiatrists become board-certified after completing residency, and all Psychiatrists (just like any other medical doctor) must possess an unrestricted medical license in the state of Michigan in order to practice here. To learn more about medical licenses, visit Michigan’s LARA page for medicine.
Training: There are well over a hundred medical schools across the country, with several located here in Michigan (e.g., CMU, MSU, UofM, Oakland, WSU, WMU). Similarly, there are many psychiatric residency programs across the country, with a small handful located here in Michigan. Note that one need not attend medical school or residency in-state in order to eventually build a career here. In fact there may be many out-of-state programs which better fit one’s goals, and the time spent in a different local culture can be an important source of growth.

Psychiatrists are often motivated by their fascination with other individuals’ minds and mental health experiences. Compared to other medical specialties, they are often drawn to psychiatry for its focus on wellness and connection with patients; and compared to other therapy specialties they are often drawn to psychiatry for its medical knowledge-base and methods. Psychiatrists typically have a desire to help solve problems and alleviate suffering, which they wish to enact in evidence-based methods. They find their work fulfilling because they are scientific thinkers eager to make sense of their patients’ experiences within a medical framework, and they enjoy the satisfaction of seeing someone improve and heal. And it doesn’t hurt that Psychiatry is one of the best-compensated mental health fields with regard to average salary!

Relevant State-Level Organization
Michigan Psychiatric Society

Relevant National Organization
American Psychiatric Association

***Additional details about board-certifiable sub-field specialties in Psychiatry***

-Addiction Psychiatry: Experts in the treatment of patients with substance-related and comorbid psychiatric disorders. Addiction Psychiatrists work with patients in acute withdrawal as well as those in long-term recovery.

-Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Specialists in working with children and adolescents with particular patient needs such as developmental disabilities, Autism spectrum, addictions, eating disorders, medical comorbidities, and other behavioral problems. Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists work closely with patients and their families.

-Forensic Psychiatry: Professionals in evaluating individuals with history of criminal behavior. Forensic Psychiatrists engage in assessment for numerous issues including competency to stand trial, dangerousness, and sexual misconduct. They also commonly engage in evaluation and treatment of incarcerated individuals. Experts in civil law, criminal law, and ethics.

-Geriatric Psychiatry: Experts in the psychiatric care of older adults. Geriatric Psychiatrists possess in-depth knowledge of neurology, drug metabolism, and dementias, and work with patients to maximize functioning and quality of life in the later stages of the lifespan.

-Consult Liaison Psychiatry: Also known as the specialty of Psychosomatic Medicine, these are specialists in the intersections of psychiatric conditions and comorbid general medical conditions. Experts who often care for patients in acute care medical hospitals.