Even people who are open to counselling and psychotherapy can be reluctant to go and see a psychiatrist. What will people think? Surely, the nest step is a straightjacket and padded walls?! Far from it, seeing a psychiatrist is nothing but a wise and courageous decision which will set you on the path of a more fulfilling life.

Psychiatrists may be medical doctors qualified to treat severe psychological disorders which can require hospitalisation, but most of the time, they will help patients whose condition is creating physical symptoms which can be alleviated by medical drugs.

While psychiatrists treat mental health issues like psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors do, they are the only clinicians among them allowed to prescribe medicine, due to their medical qualifications. This means that they often tend to be called upon to treat cases where the psychological issue is acute enough not to be treatable through therapy only and requires medical treatment.

Although psychiatrists can treat schizophrenia, paranoia, Bipolar Disorder and other life-limiting conditions, they can also be involved with a range of issues such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and young adults, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc… none of which leading to institutionalisation!

Initially, a psychiatrist will evaluate the severity of your condition by asking you detailed questions about your symptoms in order to determine how strongly they interfere with your everyday life, and how they affect social interaction, relationships and work or studying. Armed with this knowledge, they will devise a bespoke treatment plan which is likely to include therapy.

Whether your symptoms are of a genetic or biological nature, or have been created by psychological issues, your psychiatrist will prescribe medication to improve the chemical balance in your body. Depression and anxiety can lead to insomnia, chest pains, acid reflux, ulcers and general fatigue for example, reinforcing the patient’s low mood, and without addressing these ailments, they may not be able to benefit from therapy.

However, the psychiatrist’s role doesn’t stop at writing prescriptions and monitoring the medical treatment. Drugs won’t address the roots of the problem, and this is why talking therapy still remains invaluable in order to examine your past experiences, your early relationships and how they might have caused you to develop your current issue.

It is now well documented that our inner emotional world is shaped from the very first days of our existence outside the womb, if not before, and that our interaction with our family and specifically our parents, how they welcomed us (or not), will affect us deeply, even though we have no conscious memory of it as adults.

Traumatic events such as losing a parent when young or abuse can of course be responsible for difficulties later in life and a tendency to dissociate from what happened. But a seemingly normal childhood can lay the foundations of mental health issues as well.

Distant parents, broken families, well-meaning but over-protective parents, all contribute to how we perceive ourselves and will determine our ability to form meaningful relationships. As we grow up, we will replicate the dynamics we experienced in those relationships, for better or worse, sometimes in inescapable and unhealthy patterns.

Through therapy, you will gain a better understanding of your feelings and your triggers, and will be able to take the first step towards managing your condition better as you learn new coping skills which will change negative and unhelpful thinking and behaviours.

Psychiatrists can also use psychoanalysis to treat a patient, a more intensive form of one-to-one psychotherapy which requires several sessions a week over several years.  During psychoanalysis, psychiatrists will help their patient remember and examine events and feelings from their past, some of them forgotten or repressed, to help them develop more self-awareness.

Perhaps because of their medical training, psychiatrists can be perceived as somewhat less “cuddly” than psychotherapists or counsellors. Talking therapy with a psychiatrist will maybe be less of a dialogue than in counselling – although psychiatrists will obviously differ in their approach – however, it is important to remember that a psychiatrist’s role is to help you, and in this situation they need to empathise with you, i.e. understand your feelings and why they are important to you, not share them.

If you want to know more about the difference between counselling, psychotherapy and psychiatry, please read Who Should I See? for further information. You can also find more about psychologists and how they can help you, as well as psychotherapists and how they can help you.


If you are looking for a psychiatrist in Auckland, New Zealand and are unsure that this is the right treatment for you, contact the Robert Street Clinic or call us on 09 973 5950 and we will be happy to guide you through our services.