Psychiatrists work specifically with mental health patients. They diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe medications and recommend lifestyle changes that may improve a person's mental health. Some psychiatrists also offer practical strategies for coping with mental illness, and a few provide therapy. The educational requirements for a psychiatrist typically take much longer to complete than the requirements to enter other mental health fields, but the extra time spent in school can pay off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychiatrists make an average of just over $177,000 each year.
Unlike therapists and psychologists, psychiatrists must complete medical school. While it's not a requirement for becoming a psychiatrist, many psychiatrists major in psychology or a similar field while also completing premed requirements during their undergraduate careers. Psychiatrists can take a few classes in psychiatry during medical school, but their formal training in psychiatric health doesn't formally begin until their residency, so an undergraduate degree in a field related to psychiatry can prepare students for the rigors of a psychiatric residency. Medical students interested in psychiatry can benefit from choosing a school with a strong psychiatry program or opting for a medical school located near a psychiatric hospital. However, a psychiatrist's formal specialization in psychiatry won't begin until completing residency.
During a residency, a psychiatrist chooses a specialty and begins working psychiatric rotations -- often in a psychiatric hospital or in the psychiatric unit of a general hospital. Future psychiatrists will also work general rotations in the emergency room and other areas of the hospital, and this provides them with a strong medical background. Some psychiatrists also complete internships in hospitals or private psychiatric practices. Most psychiatry residencies last four years.
To become a licensed psychiatrist, a doctor has to take a state medical board examination demonstrating knowledge in the field of psychiatry. Psychiatrists can't practice medicine until they are licensed. After a doctor becomes licensed as a psychiatrist, she'll need to meet license renewal requirements. Every state requires psychiatrists to take continuing education classes, but the number and frequency of these classes varies from state to state.
Some psychiatrists opt to provide mental health therapy or life coaching, and this requires additional training. At minimum, work as a therapist requires a master's degree in a psychology-related field, such as counseling or marriage and family therapy. Therapists also have to be licensed. Life coaching, however, is not currently a licensed field. Instead, private organizations offer training for life coaches.
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