A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who works at the place where the brain and body meet. Psychiatrists understand mental wellness and illness, as well as how illness in the physical body can cause problems within the mind.
A patient may see a psychiatrist for a variety of different problems. Some problems come on suddenly and are treated over a matter of days or weeks. Others are long-term issues that can last a lifetime. Feelings of sadness or hopelessness, hallucinations, panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, hearing voices, and compulsive behaviors are all examples of the kinds of issues treated by psychiatrists.
Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, they can order laboratory blood work and prescribe medication. Some mental health problems are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and can be treated with medicine that gets the chemical levels back to where they should be. Occasionally a physical health problem such as hypothyroidism (where hormone levels in the body affect metabolism) or a brain tumor can be the cause of problematic thoughts and feelings. In these cases, psychiatrists know that the underlying physical problem needs to be treated in order to correct the mental health disorder; if necessary, they will refer the patient to an appropriate doctor.
Like psychologists and counselors, psychiatrists can use talk therapy with their patients. However, psychiatrists have access to additional resources and treatments, such as prescription medication, electroconvulsive therapy (where electric shocks are applied to the brain) to treat severe depression, or hospitalization for patients in crisis. Psychiatrists are also trained in the way substance abuse affects both the physical and mental health of patients and can treat addiction using medication and therapy.