Learn More About Psychiatry

What is Psychiatry?

It has been found that many mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are most likely to improve with a combination of both psychotherapy and psychiatric medication.

These medications, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications, can be prescribed by any medical doctor or nurse practitioner. However, psychiatrists are medical doctors who are specially trained in the treatment of mental and emotional disorders. Psychiatrists may also be trained to do psychotherapy.

What if medication doesn’t work or has side effects I don’t like?

Your doctor or nurse practitioner will work with you to find the best medication for your condition and your particular metabolism. Often, they may do genetic testing to help determine which medication might work best for you, with the fewest side effects.

How long will I need to be on medication?

Medications may be needed over the long term, even over a lifetime, for certain mental illnesses. In other cases, they are a short term solution for a difficult period of time in your life.

In some cases, medication will take effect almost immediately and may be discontinued when no longer needed. In other cases, it may take weeks before the full therapeutic effect can be felt. Often, you will be advised not to stop your medications suddenly but rather to wean off of them gradually, according to a schedule your doctor or nurse practitioner recommends.

abstract image of head, which symbolizes the complexities of psychiatry
silhouette of head with gears to symbolize the importance of medication management

What are the different types of psychiatric licenses?

  • Psychiatrist – A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. Their degree may be “MD” (Medical Doctor) or “DO” (Doctor of Osteopathy), depending on the medical school they attended. Both types of medical degree involve thorough medical training in all parts of the human body including both physical and mental disorders. Psychiatrists first attend 4 years of medical school (after college), and then go through four or more additional years of specialized training, much of it in a hospital setting. They must pass a complex examination, measuring both knowledge and skill, in order to be Board-Certified in Psychiatry. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. They can also do psychotherapy (see above). Psychiatrists usually work with individuals but may also work to help families and couples, especially when one or more family member suffers from a mental or emotional problem.
  • Nurse Practitioner – A nurse practitioner holds an advanced nursing degree which may be at a master’s (MSN) or doctoral (PhD or DNSc) level. The nurse practitioner must take special courses, during or after the masters or doctoral training. Clinical nurse specialists must pass a national certification exam to be able to practice psychotherapy. There is an additional training and examination process in order to be licensed to prescribe medications. The nurse practitioner license is “CRNP” (Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner) or “PMHNP” (Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner). They may also carry the initials “BC” (Board Certified) if they have passed an additional examination.