What to expect of your
psychiatrist in the UK?
What is a psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist is a medically-qualified practitioner who will
have spent 5-6 years training to be a doctor. He or she
will then have worked as a doctor in general medicine and surgery
for at least a year. He or she will then have had at least 6 years
of further training in helping people with psychological
What are a psychiatrist’s special
skills?All psychiatrists will learn how to:
- assess a person's state of mind
- use the “biopsychosocial” model of understanding. This
emphasises the importance of a person's past experiences, family,
culture, surroundings and work as well as any medical
- diagnose a mental illness
- use a range of psychological treatments
- use a range of medications
- help a person recover.
As well as these 'core' skills, a psychiatrist will specialise
and develop skills in working with the particular problems that
affect different groups of people.
- a general adult psychiatrist needs to develop skills in talking
with people who have disordered thinking and hallucinations.
- a child psychiatrist will usually develop skills in
working with families and with the special needs of children.
Where do psychiatrists work?
These days, NHS psychiatrists work across a whole range of
places – from the street (literally) to specialist hospital units.
However, most work in community mental health teams, out-patient
departments and hospital wards. Some do sessions in general
How do they work?
Psychiatrists sometimes see patients on their own in an
out-patient clinic. More often, they work as part of a team with
colleagues from other professions such as nursing, social work,
psychology and occupational therapy.
The team will ask the psychiatrist to see patients, either on
their own or with another member of the team present. The
psychiatrist will also work as a consultant to the team, discussing
people's individual mental health needs and working out how to best
The psychiatrist will also review patients with other team
members in their regular team review meetings.
How would I get to see a psychiatrist?
Usually your GP will need to refer you. Quite often, the first
person you will see is a nurse, a social worker or an occupational
therapist from the community mental health team. They will usually
decide with you whether you need to see the psychiatrist. Some
specialist teams accept referrals directly from families, social
workers or voluntary groups.
What might a psychiatrist ask me about?
A psychiatrist will ask you about the problem that has brought
you to see them. They may also ask about anything that has happened
in your life, your thoughts and feelings and your physical health.
This is so that he or she can get a thorough understanding of your
What might a psychiatrist recommend?
- Psychological treatments
- Practical ways of dealing with an illness
- Practical ways to stay well
- Ways to get active, see other people and get back to things you
What can I ask the psychiatrist about?
You might want to ask about:
- Your diagnosis (if any)
- How your psychiatrist has made sense of your situation
- How best to sort out your problems
- Your care plan
- What to do in an emergency, or even just if your situation
- Information about your diagnosis, treatment or recovery. This
might include websites, books or leaflets
- Local self-help groups .
You should be able to get some of this information from other
members of the mental health team.
Can a psychiatrist make me go into hospital, even if I don't
A psychiatrist is always involved in the decision to admit
someone to hospital against their will, but cannot do it on his/her
own. An approved social worker always has to agree that this needs
to be done and, in nearly all cases, another independent doctor
also need to agree that this needs to be done.
You may want to make an Advance Directive to say what you would
like to happen in the future, should you become unwell. Your
psychiatrist, GP or community nurse should be able to advise you on
this if you are interested in setting one up.
What not to expect from your psychiatrist
A psychiatrist may need to feel your pulse at your wrist, take
your blood pressure or look into your eyes with an opthalmoscope.
He or she will not usually need to do a physical examination for
which your clothes need to be removed. Any physical problems that
need this should normally be dealt with by your GP. The only
exception to this would be if you were admitted to hospital for a
mental health problem. In this case, the admitting doctor, usually
a junior doctor, should do a complete physical examination.
- A “special “relationship
- A psychiatrist should not be asking to
see you outside normal clinic hours or when there are no other
- As with all other doctors, sexual
relationships between a psychiatrist and a patient are completely
- Some people believe psychiatrists are
immediately 'psychoanalysing' them whenever they meet. This can
make people feel under pressure when they meet a psychiatrist.
Psychiatrists do not analyse people in this way. Psychoanalysis is
only done by specially trained psychotherapists in proper
therapeutic setting which a patient has agreed to.
Produced by the RCPsych Public
Education Editorial Board. Series Editor: Dr Philip Timms. Updated
by: Dr Michael Yousif.
© Updated June 2013. Due for
review: June 2015. Royal College of Psychiatrists.
This leaflet may be downloaded, printed out, photocopied and
distributed free of charge as long as the Royal College of
Psychiatrists is properly credited and no profit is gained from its
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For a catalogue of public education materials or copies of our
leaflets contact: Leaflets Department
Royal College of Psychiatrists, 21 Prescot Street, London
E1 8BB. Telephone: 020 3701 2552.
Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our
advice on getting help.
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