What is Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine which is concerned with the understanding, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the mind. These disorders can involve emotions, behaviour, perceptions and thinking. Psychiatry is one of the most varied, interesting and rewarding specialties in medicine. Every day can be different and every patient is unique. Psychiatrists work in a number of different places including hospitals, people’s own homes, residential centres, old people’s homes and even prisons.

Psychiatrists are doctors who look after patients with mental health problems. They assess patients and make diagnoses, and they may investigate medical problems, offer advice, and recommend different treatments including medication, counselling or other lifestyle interventions. Treatment of patients with mental health problems depends on a wide range of professionals including psychiatric nurses, social workers, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and occupational therapists. The psychiatrist works together with these professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team. Psychiatrists are also involved in teaching, audit and research.

The day to day work varies between the many psychiatry specialties. These specialties include General Adult Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychiatry of Old Age, Learning Disability Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, Social & Rehabilitation Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Liaison Psychiatry. The work also varies between different work settings, such as General Hospitals, Psychiatric Hospitals and various community locations.

Psychiatry has many specialist areas as listed above and explained on the psychiatry specialties page. In the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland each specialty is represented by a faculty which is usually run by an executive committee. Some faculties may have larger member committees and workgroups for specific tasks such as carrying out research or writing policy papers.

The video below describes the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry specialty, including the referral process, multidisciplinary teams, and the types of treatment available.

To train to be a psychiatrist you must first qualify as a general doctor, which means completion of an undergraduate medical school qualification and then an internship in a hospital. Intern training is for a minimum of 12 months, which encompasses a minimum of 3 months in general surgery plus 3 months in general medicine. The remaining time allows opportunity to train in two medical specialities of which psychiatry is one. A general doctor must register on the ‘General Division’ of the Irish Medical Council’s Register of Medical Specialists.

Once accepted onto the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland training scheme to become a psychiatrist the doctor must register on the ‘Trainee Division’ of the Medical Council. The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland is the only body in Ireland approved to train doctors to become psychiatrists.

To become a specialist doctor in psychiatry takes at least seven years.

Psychiatry training is divided into ‘Basic Specialist Training’ (BST) followed by ‘Higher Specialist Training’ (HST).

Once HST is complete, and certified, the doctor is now a fully qualified specialist in psychiatry and is eligible, and should, register on the Irish Medical Council ‘Specialist Division’. As specialists, they can then apply for consultant posts in health services but even if not in such a post, they are still fully qualified to work as a specialist.

Further information on training in psychiatry and the steps to becoming qualified are available here.