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Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the mental conditions and difficulties of patients. Although psychiatrists deal with similar issues to those of psychologists, they differ from psychologists primarily because they're qualified to prescribe medications to patients. A good psychiatrist needs to possess both hard scientific skills and the ability to empathize with people in crisis.
Psychiatrists need to be able to take in complex information and synthesize it to reach a conclusion. Interacting with another human being is a complicated process at the best of times; when that person is coping with emotional disruptions or even psychosis, the experience can become very challenging. Psychiatrists must make a decision about what exactly the patient's needs are and then prescribe a course of treatment, which may involve interactive therapy, medication or a combination of the two. Doing this incorrectly can increase rather than alleviate the patient's suffering, so there's a heavy responsibility in the role of a psychiatrist.
There's a wide array of drugs available to treat mental disorders: These range from relatively mild sedatives such as Valium all the way to heavy-duty drugs such as Thorazine for treating acute schizophrenia. A psychiatrist needs to understand the options that are available to him and be able to match a particular medication or combination of medications to a particular patient. Because of the constant and ongoing changes in the world of pharmaceuticals, this requires a psychiatrist to continually educate himself about new drugs and treatments.
The ability to empathize with other humans and gain insight into their motivations, difficulties and sufferings is central to success as a psychiatrist. Although the role of a psychiatrist is not to act as a friend to the patient, she must nevertheless be able to relate to the patient in the same way that a friend would and to offer support while still maintaining a professional detachment. Empathy is the ability to put oneself into the place of another person, particularly when that person is suffering or experiencing difficulty. By feeling this empathy, a psychiatrist is better able to determine what course of action would be helpful to the patient.
Maintaining a balance between empathy and detachment is one of the most difficult tasks in the role of a psychiatrist. Professionals who deal with suffering people can't allow themselves to be personally drawn into the lives of their patients. This can lead not only to depression and burnout but also to the development of inappropriate relationships between therapist and patient. The purpose of the psychiatrist is to analyze the patient and decide what available therapies, drugs and treatments will help her. To do this effectively, the psychiatrist needs to maintain a clear and objective mind — this is best done when he has no personal stake in the life of the patient.
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