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How to Know If You Need a Psychiatrist

I use the word “doctor” quite liberally and often use it interchangeably with “psychiatrist.” The reason is quite simple – psychiatrists are, in fact doctors, they are just specialists. Yes, that’s right, your psychiatrist has all the rights and privileges that any other doctor has and could probably remove your spleen, if the occasion called for it.

Nevertheless, there are some crucial differences between “doctors” in general and “psychiatrists” in particular. And sometimes you need a psychiatrist and sometime any old doctor will do. So how do you know if you need a psychiatrist?

What are Psychiatrists?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors with specialized training in the area of mental health. So instead of just being a general practitioner, they attended extra schooling to specialize in mental health. A psychiatrist has about a decade of schooling beyond high school (depending on the country).

This is not to be confused with psychologist who is not a medical doctor and instead is a specialist in psychology. They are therapists and cannot prescribe medication.

Nor is this to be confused with your family doctor, who is a general practitioner. A general practitioner’s job is to take care of the daily cuts and scrapes of life and to know when to refer a patient to someone else.

Mental Illness and General Practitioners

It is my opinion that anyone with a mental illness should have a proper mental health evaluation by a psychiatric professional – a psychiatrist. General practitioners do a world of harm by not being able to recognize complex mental illnesses, often diagnosing “depression” when it’s not depression at all. General practitioners don’t diagnose cancer – a specialist does that – and the same should be true of a mental illness.

After you’ve been properly diagnosed by a psychiatrist it may then be possible to have your condition managed through a general practitioner either now or in the future, but only if you’re a bog-standard case of something simple or have been stable for a long time.

When Do You Need a Psychiatrist?

So, outside of diagnosis when do you need a psychiatrist?

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a general practitioner – they’re just not a specialist, that’s all. Because remember, a psychiatrist sees patients all day, every day, who are just like you, a general practitioner does not. A general practitioner does physicals and eye exams and prescribes antibiotics and looks down people’s throats all day. None of that is going to help you with a case of bipolar disorder.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

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25 thoughts on “How to Know If You Need a Psychiatrist”

  1. Thank you. I’m so grateful to you for your informative blogs.
    I actually have a great psychiatrist that I have been seeing for years. That’s great if your symptoms are a bay for the most part but I think that it is important for people to know that if they are not getting better with their psychiatrist that it is okay to change him/her. I have a friend who is scared to change for offending him but her meds are clearly off.

  2. I firmly believe that a psychiatrist is the most qualified to treat and evaluate my bipolar status. I was originally misdiagnosed as depressed by me general practitoner. I later was advised to see a psychiatrist who correctly diagnosed me. I have a terrific psychiatrist who listens to my thoughts, concerns and input. I am currently stable; I doubt that would have happened if I was still treated by my family doctor.

  3. I just spent another weekend attempting to refuel to face the week ahead. I opened my laptop and “googled” High-functioning Bipolar. I guess I was looking for solace or camaraderie, albeit solo. I can honestly say i have never posted on a blog. So, what “googled” up was Natasha’s article from 1/2011 titled “High Functioning Bipolar”. I read it and knew I could have written the same theme of words. Maybe it was exactly what i needed to hear.. “if you can do it, I’ll do it”. I am exhausted but i never seem to stop making life more challenging. There are some days after 11 hours working in my supposedly 8 hour/5 day per week job as an outpatient mental heath clinic therapist, that i know there is little difference between me and my patients. They see their therapist and psychiatrist and I help them along… I see my therapist and psychiatrist and they help me along. I’ve tried every psychotropic medication over time and i’ve burned the tail off of their effectiveness. Perhaps I hold the hope for my patients, when they have no hope left. As my truly wonderful psychiatrist told me about 10 years ago, “We’re all just Bozo’s on the same bus”. But this bozo is tired of managing life with mental illness. I’m getting too tired. It’s so much and too much work.

  4. Dear Natatasha.
    In the UK a Physciatrist gets one years extra training.If a physciatrist took out your spleen then sue the hell out of them because they are not qualified to do that.Its called a surgeon(and they get a lot of extra training not just one year.

    A Physiologist has studied one field for more than the Psychiatrist has studied many and no they cant prescribe pills but a nurse practitioner can do that so whats the point.
    I noticed from reading your posts that you have a fixation on physical illnesses that impact the mind understandable and if i suffered from Bi-polar i wouldn’t need or want to go anywhere else.On these topics i trust you completely as you put stuff in terms a layperson can understand.However you protelyse on other subjects and ask tobe taken on faith with no supporting evidence to back you up.
    Psychiatrists are good for physical ilness(maybe) but thats all.
    Question for you(mainly as i dont know where to look.What is the average length of time for treatment of none physical illnesses treated by a psychiatrist and the average length of time when treated by a psychotherapist(non psychiatrist)
    Finally,you criticize GP’s but i have had two that both correctly diagnosed me and one psychiatrist that got it wrong.
    Some GP’s are good but depending on your illness all Physicists are wrong.

  5. Hi Patrick,

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that the systems were the same everywhere. I can’t comment on the UK system of licensing as I’m not familiar with it.

    I couldn’t say what the average length of time is for a psychiatrist or psychologist to treat a mental illness however it is the psychiatrist’s (or another doctor’s) responsibility to do med checks periodically and that goes on for as long as you take medication.

    Each person’s experience is going to be different with a GP or a psychiatrist, certainly.

    – Natasha Tracy

  6. Hi, I just sort of stumbled on your website. Not sure where to turn. I have a friend that is extremely depressed and I don’t know where to turn. She has no money. Are there any places that will treat people by their ability to pay? I could help a little, but not sure what treatment costs these days.

    Thanks for any input.


  7. I know I have a mental health problem. I have been fighting it by trying to hide it, but I think it has influenced my life in many different negative ways. I am not sure who do I need to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I haven’t talked to my dr. about this issue, but he is a pill dr. and I don’t want him just to give me a pill. I need to find out issues from my childhood from sexual abuse to lack of trusting. Where should I go? Who do I see?

    Thanks in advance!

  8. Hi Nadaranda,

    In my opinion, if you’re dealing with issues from child hood, sexual abuse and trust, you need to speak to a psychologist – generally. It’s always possible you will need a bit more help than a psychologist can offer, but I would start there if I were you.

    – Natasha Tracy

  9. Hi Natasha
    I was admitted to hospital for 6 weeks with severe depression and phycosis some years back i was never dx with anything , after going high from anti ds on a number of occassions my pdoc says its cyclothymia but I think that’s wrong just wondered if you could shed some light on it

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