What Is a Psychiatrist? 8 Steps to Become One

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Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental illnesses and prescribe medications that may help improve mental health. Read on to learn more about this impactful health care profession and what you need to do to join it.

[Featured Image] A psychiatrist sits at a desk and meets with a patient.

Psychiatrists are doctors who diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication for mental health problems. According to a 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) study, over 56 million people in India suffer from depression (4.5 per cent of the population), and over 38 million Indians (3 per cent) suffer from anxiety disorders [1]. There is also a significant shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists in the country.

Psychiatrists help individuals suffering from a broad range of mental health conditions—from addictive behaviours to depression—by providing them with the expertise required to diagnose their conditions and provide effective treatment accurately. 

In this article, you'll learn more about psychiatrists, what they do, how much they earn, and what you need to do to become one. You'll also find some suggested courses to help you start exploring this fascinating health care career today. 

What is a psychiatrist? 

Psychiatrists evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders, such as addictive behaviours, personality disorders, and depression. 

Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medication to their patients and focus primarily on the biological and neurological basis for mental health disorders. Nonetheless, psychiatrists can also provide talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 

What does a psychiatrist do?

Psychiatrists must perform a range of duties during their day-to-day work. Specific responsibilities might include:

  • Conducting interviews, psychological tests, and other assessments with patients

  • Reviewing patient medical histories

  • Documenting and analysing assessment findings 

  • Prescribing suitable medications and establishing treatment plans

  • Monitoring the progression of patients' health following treatment

  • Adjusting treatment plans as necessary

Because of the nature of their work, psychiatrists may also have to play a role in crisis intervention. Depending on the setting, psychiatrists often work alongside psychologists, technicians, aides, and social workers. 

Psychiatrist salary 

As highly trained medical professionals with in-demand skills, psychiatrists generally earn a comparatively high salary. Consider the following annual salary estimates from various sources for psychiatrists in India as of September 2023:

  • Indeed: ₹16,79,019 [2]

  • Payscale: ₹9,67,122 [3]

  • Talent.com: ₹15,00,000 [4]

  • AmbitionBox: ₹8,00,000 [5]

  • Glassdoor: ₹12,00,000 [6]

Psychiatrist vs. psychologist: What's the difference?

While both are mental health professionals, the roles of psychiatrists and psychologists differ in a few key ways. Psychiatrists tend to work with more severe cases and can prescribe medication to patients. 

Psychologists, on the other hand, rely primarily on psychotherapy (or talk therapy) and similar practices to help clients. However, they cannot prescribe medication. The level of required education and expected salary also differ. Psychiatry jobs tend to be more lucrative because psychiatrists must be medical doctors. 


How to become a psychiatrist in India

Psychiatrists are highly trained medical professionals who must undergo many years of education and training.  Becoming a psychiatrist includes completing class 12, earning an MBBS degree, and becoming licensed and medically certified.

1. Complete Class 12 exams in a science stream. 

Begin by completing a science stream through Class 12. One of your compulsory subjects must be biology, and the course must be Indian Board-approved. Depending on what medical school you attend, there might also be a cumulative GPA requirement for your courses. . 

2. Earn an MBBS degree.

The MBBS is a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree programme that typically takes five and a half years to complete. To become eligible for entry, you must pass a medical entrance exam. All applicants must pass the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) - Undergraduate offered by the National Testing Agency. It is a pen-and-paper exam offered in different languages and is accepted by all medical colleges in India.    

Your MBBS curriculum will consist of coursework in behavioural sciences and psychiatry. Some of the topics you will learn include:

  • Human behaviour, motivation, and emotions

  • Cognitive processes and learning types

  • Intelligence and personalities

  • Psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and depression

  • Personality disorders

  • Childhood psychiatric disorders

  • Drug and alcohol dependence

  • Counselling and psychological therapies

  • Psychological testing

3. Gain experience in college.  

While in college, you can build your resume by volunteering at local mental health service providers or joining psychology-related organisations. Consider any options that allow you to work near mental health professionals or build on your knowledge of biology and psychology. 

You will also complete a one-year internship as part of your MBBS programme. You will gain practical experience in working with patients during your internship as well as treating certain conditions under the direction of your supervisor.

4. Develop your human skills.  

Aside from a strong knowledge of medicine, psychiatrists need personal skills that include analytical thinking, emotional resilience, and empathy. The ability to listen effectively and interpret body language is also useful. You can work on building these skills in your daily interactions with others.

5. Consider a speciality. 

Some psychiatrists specialise in a specific area, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, clinical psychiatry, or correctional psychiatry. If you enjoy working with older adults, you might specialise in geriatric psychiatry. Addiction psychiatry deals with helping individuals who struggle with addictive behaviours. You might pursue certification to verify your expertise in a speciality.

6.  Earn a higher post-graduate degree or diploma.

After completing your MBBS, you will need to pursue additional degree or diploma options to further your knowledge and expertise in psychiatry. Options include:

  • Doctor of Medicine (MD): a three-year course

  • Diploma in psychiatric medicine (DPM): a two-year course

  • Diplomate of National Board Exam (DNB): equivalent to MD

7. Get your medical licence. 

The state’s medical board requires a licence to practice psychiatry in India. Most states have their licensing system and standards, but most require an exam that tests understanding of state rules and medical procedures.

8. Embrace lifelong learning.

Strive to provide the best possible care to your patients by staying current with research findings and topics related to the care of patients. You can stay current with clinical reports, medical journals, peer conferences, advanced courses, and certification.

Next steps

Explore whether a career in psychiatry might be a good fit for you by enrolling in a course from a leading university, like Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health from the University of Sydney or Medical Neuroscience from Duke University. 

If you don’t yet have a bachelor’s degree, explore how you can earn one online on your own schedule and for less than on-campus programmes.

Article sources


World Health Organisation. "Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders Global Health Estimates,  https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/254610/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng.pdf?s." Accessed February 18, 2023.

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