What is a Psychiatrist, What Do They Treat and How Much Do They Cost?

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What is a Psychiatrist, What Do They Treat and How Much Do They Cost?

Sydney Garrow

Written by Sydney Garrow

Sydney Garrow

Sydney Garrow

Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.

March 1, 2021 / Read Time 4 minutes

Please Note: PlushCare does not have online psychiatrists at this time. That said, our primary care physicians are able to prescribe mental health medications such as antidepressants, and if necessary can provide you with a referral to a psychiatrist.

What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner who specializes in helping patients with mental illnesses.

Psychiatrists hold either an M.D. or a D.O. and are able to treat psychological problems.

They are medical doctors, who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders with medication. 

What Does a Psychiatrist Do? 

Psychiatrists have gone through medical and clinical training, which allows them to diagnose and treat patients with mental illnesses.

Psychiatrists can also prescribe patients with medications, which can help correct imbalances in brain chemistry that cause mental disorders. 

Psychiatrists do not usually provide therapy to their patients, but they still meet on a regular basis to ensure medication is effective, and discuss the side effects experienced by the patient. 

Due to their education as a medical practitioner, they can use a variety of techniques, tools, and tests to diagnose and treat patients. 

They are qualified not only to provide talk therapy, or other kinds of therapy, but can also assess physical needs as well, and include family history, genetics, medical, psychological data, and emotional struggles in order to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for patients with any mental health disorder(s).

Training for Psychiatrists

In answering the question, “What does a psychiatrist do?” it’s important to address their education and training. 

Unlike many other mental health specialists, they are required to complete medical school and also residency––specifically psychiatric residency. Some of the specializations they study during residency include, but may not be limited to: 

  • General psychiatry

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry

  • Geriatric psychiatry

  • Addiction psychiatry

  • Psychosomatic medicine

  • Forensic psychiatry

  • Pain medicine

  • Sleep medicine

  • Psychiatry of intellectual disability 

Most psychiatrists have training in hospitals, emergency rooms, and in-patient and out-patient facilities. Although much of their initial residency takes place in hospitals in order to gain experience in a wide variety of mental health disorders, not all psychiatrists work in hospitals. 

Some choose to open their own private practice, work in universities, at rehab centers, prisons, or courts to name a few places. 

Some psychiatrists study psychoanalysis for more patient interactions, or use their training in a research setting, conducting studies and collecting data for use by other mental health practitioners. 

What’s the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

Unlike a psychologist, a psychiatrist can prescribe medication, and perform functions of health care practitioners who have been through medical school. 

Psychologists usually have Masters of PhD degrees in psychology, and can assess, diagnose, and treat psychological disorders due to mental or physical health. Psychologists might work in clinical settings, research labs, or in university as lecturers or professors. 

What’s the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Therapist?

Like psychiatrists and psychologists, therapists are licensed mental health professionals, whose purpose is to help clients deal with challenges caused by mental illnesses. They are not certified to prescribe medications, and they usually go to school for less time than psychologists. 

“Therapist” is somewhat of an umbrella term for many different professionals who provide treatments and coping mechanisms for people. 

Some examples of professionals that fall under this umbrella term include: 

  • Psychoanalysts

  • Marriage counselors

  • Social workers 

  • Life coaches

Since professionals of multiple kinds can refer to themselves as “therapists,” it’s important to do your research before trusting your mental health or rehabilitation with someone who refers to themselves as a therapist. 

A trustworthy mental health practitioner should have their licensing, credentials, education, and approaches to psychotherapy clearly stated on their business website, or be able to tell you what they are in person. 

  1. 1

    Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  2. 2

    Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  3. 3

    Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

When Should I See a Psychiatrist? 

For some people, psychiatrists are a part of a team of mental health practitioners that develop a treatment plan for a mental health disorder. 

If you are in therapy of any kind, but feel that you require medicine as part of your treatment plan, your counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychoanalyst will need to refer you to a doctor in order to get a prescription.

While some people choose to receive prescriptions for mental health disorders through their primary care physician, a psychiatrist specializes in mental health, and can provide a broad spectrum of oversight to your treatment plan. 

For uncomplicated mental health conditions such as mild to moderate anxiety and depression, a psychiatrist is likely not needed and your primary care physician can prescribe mental health medication. For those with complicated mental health disorders, or multiple mental health disorders a prescription from a psychiatrist may be recommended. 

What Can Psychiatrists Treat? 

Examples of some of the mental health conditions that psychiatrists can treat include: 

  • Depression

  • Anxiety Disorders

  • Eating Disorders 

  • Bipolar Disorder 

  • Insomnia 

  • Schizophrenia 

  • Addiction

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 

  • neurodevelopmental disorders

  • Body image issues

  • Self harm 

  • Delusional thoughts 

  • Hyperactivity 

Since these medical practitioners specialize in mental health, those are primarily the kinds of illnesses they deal with in their job. Like any other doctor who holds an M.D. or D.O., they can order laboratory and psychological tests to help develop a treatment plan. 

How Much Do Psychiatrists Cost? 

Perhaps for some, the question that comes to mind immediately after “What is a psychiatrist?” is “How much does a psychiatrist cost?”

This question is hard to answer, considering you must take multiple factors into account. 

The average cost of a session with a psychiatrist in the US is $400 without insurance, but it might be a lot cheaper depending who you see, where you see them, and what your insurance covers. 

Nonetheless, psychiatrists are really expensive and their services are out of reach for many people. 

  1. 1

    Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  2. 2

    See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  3. 3

    Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

Can I See a Psychiatrist Online? 

While PlushCare does not currently offer psychiatric services, our board-certified physicians and licensed therapists are a great low cost option for those looking for convenient and affordable mental health support. 

PlushCare provides access to medical care of all different kinds. In addition to online therapy, we provide access to medical doctors who can prescribe medications, such as antidepressants, to help treat all different kinds of mental health disorders, most commonly anxiety and depression. 


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