Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in treating the physical as well as mental factors that cause mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Psychiatrists are the only mental health professionals who are able to prescribe medication. While some may also provide psychoanalysis or cognitive-behavioral therapy, they generally focus specifically on the physical causes of mental illnesses. Unlike clinical psychologists or licensed counselors, psychiatrists are able to perform physical examinations and investigate the biological or medical problems that might be contributing to your anxiety or depression. They can perform laboratory tests such as MRI, PET, and CT scans to discover any brain function abnormalities, tumors, or diseases that might contribute to emotional disorders. Psychiatrists can also perform blood tests, family medical histories, and interview you about the physical symptoms you’re experiencing as a result of your depression or anxiety. Mental illnesses are often accompanied by crippling physical symptoms such as chronic fatigue and pain, and psychiatrists are able to treat these physical symptoms in a way that clinical psychologists are not.

While many psychiatrists are able to also provide talk therapy, they generally work in tandem with your therapist in treating your depression or anxiety. If you’re seeking medical treatment and prescription medication under the care of a psychiatrist, it’s important to also seek the help of a therapist who can uncover the underlying emotional causes of your disorder.

During the initial visit, your psychiatrist will perform tests to assess your mental and physical condition. They use interviews, medical records, reports from other mental health professionals or social workers you’ve seen, relatives, friends, and psychiatric rating scales. They will also perform medical tests and find out about any family history of mental or emotional disorders. This preliminary information will help them determine the source of your problems and the best course of treatment.

When looking for a psychiatrist, there are several things to keep in mind. The most important thing to remember is that you’re the one who knows what you want and need to get out of treatment. If you don’t feel that a particular psychiatrist is giving you the attention you need, you can seek help from other sources until you find someone who fits. You can also get prescriptions from your family doctor if you’d prefer. Here are a few tips for finding the psychiatrist who’s right for you:

  • Contact your insurance provider to find out which psychiatrists in your area are covered by your plan. Many insurance companies cover mental health needs.
  • If you don’t have health insurance and you cannot afford the cost of a doctor’s visit, there is still help available. Many states offer assistance for public mental health needs. Contact local free clinics and mental health / mental retardation (MHMR) centers that provide free or less expensive mental health services.
  • Ask friends or family members who have sought psychiatric treatment for recommendations to good doctors.
  • You can also ask your priest, minister, or rabbi for assistance in choosing mental health professionals who will fit your specific needs.
  • Get connected to an online community for those suffering with depression or anxiety. This is a good way to find out about different local doctors.
  • Get a referral from your therapist or general practitioner. Therapists often work closely with a specific psychiatrist, and this connection will help make your treatment more effective.

Once you’ve found a psychiatrist, there are certain questions you should ask. During the initial visit, ask the doctor:

  • How long have you been in practice?
  • Do you accept my insurance? If not, how much will each visit cost?
  • How often will you want to see me?
  • Do you provide talk therapy? If not, is there a specific therapist you’d recommend?
  • What can I expect from treatment?
  • If I experience a problem with the medication I’m taking, how easy will it be to get a hold of you?

Above all else, make sure that your psychiatrist gives you all the information you’ll need to be an educated partner in your own treatment. Recovery from depression or anxiety is a personal journey, so make sure you and your psychiatrist are on the same page. Even though they are the medical health professional, it is important that you’re comfortable with any course of treatment that they suggest. Whatever you ultimately decide to do, there is help available for your anxiety or depression. Knowing where to look is the first step in your journey toward health and happiness.

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