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Not sure when to see a psychiatrist? Use this guide

Not sure when to see a psychiatrist? Use this guide
Reviewed by:
Authored by:
Austin Lin, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
September 26, 2023
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Emotions can be confusing, and when they feel out of control and affect your behavior, you might need to speak with someone who can help you understand what you are experiencing. Seeking help from a mental health professional can be invaluable for addressing a variety of feelings and symptoms.  

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health and are trained to assess your symptoms and provide you with a diagnosis. Once diagnosed, they will discuss with you whether medication – and what kind -  is appropriate to support your treatment. Working together with your psychiatrist will help you overcome feelings and behaviors that may be limiting your personal growth and impacting the quality of your life. 

If medication is recommended, psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe it. Medication may be prescribed to treat many conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.  

Read on to learn about how a psychiatrist differs from a psychologist, considerations about when to see a psychiatrist, and what to expect from a session. 

Should you see a psychiatrist or a psychologist? 

It is easy to confuse the terms “psychiatrist” and “psychologist,” but they are different in a few significant ways. 

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have trained for at least 12 years and specialize in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses through various modalities including medication, therapy, and neuromodulation with medication. After college, aspiring psychiatrists must attend medical school and then complete a four-year psychiatry medical residency. These credentials allow psychiatrists to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders such as anxiety, depression, and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

Clinical psychologists are not trained as medical doctors. Clinical psychologists spend five to seven years studying psychotherapy, counseling, and the administration and interpretation of psychological testing. They are not licensed to prescribe medication. Instead, psychologists generally help individuals through talk therapy. They may use techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoanalytic therapy to help patients manage thought and behavioral difficulties through the development of coping skills.  

If you need psychiatric medication management  or other medical treatment, a psychologist might refer you to a licensed psychiatrist. 

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Should you consult a psychiatrist to manage your medications? 

Many patients turn to their family physician for psychiatric medications. This frequently occurs because many patients have difficulty accessing psychiatric care. However, you may also benefit from an evaluation by a psychiatrist. As part of their training, psychiatrists learn how the body interacts with and absorbs, distributes, and metabolizes psychiatric medication. They are also well-versed in how common medications interact with psychiatric medications.  

Like your family physician, psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors, andbut they have significantly more training when prescribing medication such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. The additional expertise offered by a psychiatrist may help you feel better faster. Additionally, sometimes a person may be prescribed the wrong type of medication for their mental health, which may lead to worsened results, so it is important to arrive at the correct diagnosis in order to receive the appropriate treatment.  

At Talkiatry, our psychiatrists will work with you to find and maintain the right medication. You will meet regularly to discuss how you are feeling and any side effects you have experienced. There may be a need for adjustments of dosage or combining more than one medication to achieve the desired effect, and your psychiatrist will guide you through the process.  

When to see a psychiatrist for your mental health treatment 

You may feel as though you need help with an emotional challenge, but you may think the situation does not warrant seeking out a consultation with a mental health professional. Mental health can be complex, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer regarding when to see a psychiatrist. But it might be a good time to explore getting care if you are experiencing a situation like one of the following: 

  1. If you are struggling with challenges such as an illness, the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or other major stressors and life events. 
  1. When you have uncontrollable behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that affect your life, including with relationships, work, and well-being. 
  1. If you feel suicidal and/or like the world and loved ones would be better off without you. 
  1. Your therapist or another doctor suggests you may need medication to help you cope with difficult times managing symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
  1. You find yourself isolated from your everyday life, meaning you no longer see your friends or family members, or your social life has been dramatically reduced. 
  1. Substance abuse or misuse interferes with your job performance, your relationships with family and friends, as well as your physical health. 

Main branches of psychiatry 

Not sure if you need to see a specialist? This list will give you an idea of what type of psychiatrist may best help you. Your primary care doctor may also help with a referral for a psychiatrist.  

Addiction psychiatry: Focuses on evaluating, diagnosing, and treating people suffering from addiction disorders. 

Child and adolescent psychiatry: Focuses on diagnosing and treating behavioral disorders in children and teens. Read more about how Talkiatry treats children and adolescents.

Geriatric psychiatry: Focuses on evaluating, diagnosing, preventing, and treating emotional and mental disorders in elderly adults aged 65 and older. 

Neuropsychiatry: Focuses on the relationship between psychiatry and neurology, which is the study and treatment of nervous system disorders, especially the brain. 

Occupational psychiatry: Focuses on how using psychiatric knowledge can help individuals in the workplace and organizations function better on a day-to-day basis. 

If you are reluctant to see a psychiatrist 

Currently, 20% of people in the U.S. live with a mental health condition. Despite this number, only half of individuals seek help. Many people are reluctant to get help for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, there is still some stigma that surrounds mental illness, which can contribute to being afraid of getting help.  

You might be reluctant to seek help because of a prior bad experience. Sometimes personalities do not mesh, or you may not have felt like you were making progress. Another reason could be the hesitation to share deeply personal information and thoughts with a stranger.  

It can be difficult to seek treatment for fear of being judged or not clicking with a mental health professional. At Talkiatry, there is no obligation to stay with a doctor who is not a good fit for you. We can help you match with another psychiatrist from our highly qualified medical staff who is a better fit.  

Another thing that can cause hesitation is the cost. Using your health insurance can make treatment affordable. Talkiatry accepts a wide range of insurance carriers — you can check your coverage here in seconds.

Mental health problems may worsen if help is not accessible because of distance or lack of convenience. Fortunately, telepsychiatry is an excellent option that allows you to consult with a psychiatrist from the comfort and convenience of your home. If therapy is part of your care plan, Talkiatry offers the flexibility of teletherapy. 

How to prepare for your first psychiatric session   

You have finally decided to see a psychiatrist for the first time and have an appointment. Your first session should be about an hour. Your psychiatrist will ask a series of questions about feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to help identify symptoms and make a diagnosis. It may take several sessions for your psychiatrist to be sure of your diagnosis.  

Your doctor will want to get as much information about your medical history as possible to provide the best treatment method.

A typical psychiatric evaluation lasts 45 to 90 minutes. After that, your psychiatrist will determine a treatment plan to help you manage your mental health symptoms based on evaluation results.

Read more about what to expect and how to prepare for your first visit.

How Talkiatry can help 

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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