Ever wondered how the mind works? We have always been fascinated by the unknown aspects of our psyche. Psychiatry is the science that probes deeper into such aspects.
With the rising awareness about mental health and mental health disorders among the youth, psychology has become a discipline that has garnered much interest.
If you are an aspiring psychiatrist thinking of pursuing this course, are curious about how one treats mental illnesses, how psychiatrists work, or the foundational core of mental health professionals, this might be the right place for you.
Here, we have an overview of how to become a psychiatrist to give you more insight into this fascinating field of study.
1. Psychologist or Psychiatrist?
Ok, this is one of the first things taught in any psychology-related course. Both are NOT the same. Considering their jobs as interchangeable might be catastrophic!
Psychology is fundamentally the study of the human mind, while psychiatry is a branch of medicine. A medical degree is a prerequisite to becoming a psychiatrist, but a Ph.D. would suffice if you want to go into psychology.
How much do the responsibilities differ? Both psychologists and psychiatrists work in tandem in the mental health field to treat patients.
While psychologists look after the therapy, psychiatrists diagnose the mental or neurological illness and prescribe medications and electroconvulsive therapy, if required. Only a qualified and board-certified psychiatrist is allowed to prescribe medication.
2. Is Psychiatry Limited to Medicines and Medical Procedures?
You must be wondering why take up psychiatry among all medical specializations? How is it different from the fields pertaining to physical illnesses if medicines can also cure mental illness?
If the previous section established psychiatry as too procedural, you’re in for a surprise. The responsibility of a psychiatrist might overlap with those of a psychologist (but mind it, the reverse is not possible).
As a psychiatrist, you can also administer talk therapy along with medication. You are equipped to plan the patient’s treatment and how and when to administer the combination of medication and therapy.
3. Some Common Mental Health Disorders
As a psychiatrist, your main job will be to treat patients suffering from various mental illnesses. So what kind of cases can you expect? Read on to learn about some common mental health disorders you might be expected to treat.
Depression is the most common mental health disorder and can be debilitating if not treated properly. It affects women more than men and can be caused by stressful life experiences or genetics.
Some symptoms of depression are loss of interest in activities, apathy, low self-worth, fatigue, and inability to pay attention.
This disorder falls under the category of psychotic disorders and requires the use of antipsychotic drugs to be controlled.
People who have schizophrenia often experience hallucinations and delusions. It adversely affects their cognitive and behavioural patterns.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Generally referred to as PTSD, this disorder surfaces as a result of traumatic life experiences such as accidents, the death of a loved one, and natural disasters.
PTSD causes a person to experience flashbacks of the traumatic incident, nightmares, sudden loss of memory, and delusions.
Dementia is a disorder that adversely affects the cognitive abilities of the person. This disorder can only be controlled with palliative medicine and cannot be fully treated.
The symptoms of dementia include weakening of cognitive abilities like memory and comprehension. More serious cases might also impact emotional and social abilities.
4. What is My Scope after Studying Psychiatry?
Isn’t this the first question we all ask while deciding upon a career option? Now, psychiatry is a field as vast as the human mind, but we can give you a peek into what you can expect.
You can have a clinical practice of your own, but there are also inpatient and outpatient psychiatry in hospitals. You want to choose a field to specialize in regardless of the practice. Here are some of them:
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
This might be the field for you if you are great with kids. As the name suggests, this field deals with mental illnesses in people below 18.
This branch might also overlap with family medicine. Child and adolescent psychiatry also requires practicing psychiatrists to work in close contact with the patient and their families.
Such psychiatrists work to treat mental disorders like learning disabilities, behavioural disorders, eating disorders, developmental disabilities and mood disorders.
Addictions don’t just impact just the person suffering but also the people around them. We see lives being ruined yearly due to some other form of addiction. Substance abuse, sex, gambling, the list is endless.
Addiction psychiatry aims to understand the causes of addiction in a person and help to overcome it for a better life.
As an addiction psychiatrist, you will interact with victims of substance abuse, chemical dependency, and those suffering from difficulties controlling impulses.
Forensic’ surely isn’t an unfamiliar term if you are an avid watcher of crime thrillers. But did you know that a branch of psychiatry is related to it? That’s right, Forensic psychiatry!
Now, what do you think this branch might involve? All aspects of psychiatry pertaining to crime fall under forensic psychology.
So as a forensic psychiatrist, some of your duties might involve the treatment of mental illnesses among criminals and gauging their mental health to stand a legislative trial. Now, that’s quite an important responsibility!
Under this branch, your main job will be treating old-age mental disorders. Just like child psychiatry, you will also be interacting with a specific age group here.
Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease are common mental disorders plaguing this population. Geriatric psychiatry attempts to treat these diseases and others.
5. How Suitable is the Study of Psychiatry for me?
Now, the science of the mind is an intriguing concept. But is merely intrigued enough to take this very significant and sensitive discipline and practice it as a full-time career?
Like every other career option, sincerity and dedication is a must. But some skills are necessary for any practitioner of this profession.
Goes without saying, you MUST have a medical degree and a medical license to practice psychiatry. Not only is it a grave offence to practice medicine without a license, but it will also result in more harm than good for your patients.
Empathy is undoubtedly the most important skill for mental health professionals. It goes a long way in providing a safe and trusting environment for the patient.
Decision-making is an important aspect of this profession. But if you practice psychiatry, your decisions must balance emotional and analytical thinking.
Hey, don’t let all this information intimidate you, though! You are not expected to possess all these qualities in a full measure right from day zero.
A psychiatry program, along with professional training, is also designed to hone skills like these and develop an understanding of medical procedures.
If you possess these abilities, you might want to become a psychiatrist!
6. How to become a Psychiatrist – Education and Training
We have understood by now that psychiatry is impactful and, in most cases, a life-changing discipline. So it is only natural that its study requires considerable time and dedication.
Let’s go through the enriching process of becoming a practicing psychiatrist with a medical license.
Get that Undergraduate Degree First
Before jumping right into the study of the mind, getting a bachelor’s degree is advisable. It will help you to make more sense of the medical school.
Go for courses like psychology, biology, or some physical science degree. Getting some idea of laboratory work and related internships will go a long way to aid you when you attend medical school.
In the process, you will acquire skills that would make your life much easier in medical school. We don’t want to be the confused ones, do we?
Medical College Admission Test
Now that you have a bachelor’s degree, you are equipped with the skills required at medical school. But wait, how do you get into one?
Medical College Admission Test or MCAT is the examination that tests you on these skills and others that are required in a medical professional.
Passing the MCAT is a prerequisite to getting into a medical school. Apart from this, most medical schools have different criteria for evaluating applications.
Medical School Begins
Once you reach medical school, the big question is which of the medical programs to take up. After all, aspiring psychiatrists are medical students before anything else.
The aim of osteopathic medicine is healing rather than treating. An MD course will only equip you to treat mental illness symptomatically with medicines. A DO course is holistic.
Here you are trained in other healing practices beyond medicine. Both these courses take up to four years.
Psychiatry Residency Program
To become a psychiatrist, you also need a psychiatry residency along with a medical degree. A psychiatric residency program after medical school education will provide you with all the expertise required by a professional psychiatrist.
What can you expect in psychiatric residency programs? Well, such programs provide you with invaluable experience and perspectives to understand patients with mental illnesses better and, in turn, treat mental disorders accordingly.
Not only are such programs mandatory for medical school graduates to acquire a license, but they also help aspiring psychiatrists broaden their horizons. As a psychiatric resident, you can also apply for fellowship programs.
Get Your License and Board Certification
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of a medical license. You are eligible for a license after you complete medical school and the psychiatric residency program. This is the final step toward becoming a psychiatrist.
Apart from the license, you also need to get board certified. This certification is obtained from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology or ABPN. You would require the medical license for board certification as well.
American Board of Psychiatry is a body dedicated to finding qualified professionals in mental health.
This license has to be renewed every few years, depending on the state. Continuing education credits are an important deciding factor in the license renewal process.
Start your Psychiatric Practice
Once you have your license and are certified by the American Board of Psychiatry, you can decide how you want to practice.
You can start a clinical practice or practice in psychiatric hospitals. Now you also have the power to prescribe medications.
7. What kind of Practice Should I take Up?
After all the years of hard toil, this is the most pertinent question as you are on the verge of commencing your practice. After how to become a psychiatrist comes what kind of practice is best suited for me?
Your options after becoming a psychiatrist include working in a psychiatric hospital or starting your clinic. Both of these have their pros and cons.
A hospital has inpatient psychiatry and outpatient psychiatry departments. Working in a hospital setting is advantageous to your career growth due to more patients and different types of cases.
Compared to hospitals, clinical practice might prove more difficult for a psychiatrist in the initial years of their career. However, it provides the practitioner more autonomy than in a hospital setting.
8. American Psychiatric Association
As an aspiring psychiatrist, this might be something you would want to know about. The American Psychiatric Association APA is the most prestigious organization among the practitioners of psychiatry.
This organization is dedicated to the practice and research of this discipline and comprises more than 35 thousand members across the different fields of psychiatry.
APA also publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This Bible of all mental health professionals lists the symptoms of every known mental illness for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Now that you have a brief idea of how to become a psychiatrist, we hope you can make a more informed choice. Despite all the hardships and long years of training, psychiatry is a truly intriguing and rewarding discipline to pursue.
What do you find the most interesting about this discipline? Do share your thoughts below on this fascinating science of the mind.