What’s a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner who has expertise in mental health. He will have studied for 6 years training to be a doctor, then worked for at least a year but often longer in general medicine and surgery and after that will have had at least 6 more years of further training in mental health conditions. So he is a specialist in the conditions of mind and brain just as another doctor might be a specialist in disorders of the heart. On top of that many psychiatrists do further specialisation in a specific field such as child and family, older age psychiatry, psychosis, various complex treatments etc.


Talking can be a big help, but your psychiatrist might think you need medication as well as therapy. You don’t have to agree, and it’s up to you whether you take it. You can also get another opinion from a different psychiatrist if you want. You can talk to a psychiatrist about what the medication is meant to do, and how the side effects will feel. Check out our fact sheet, ‘Medication’, for more info.

Appointments and privacy

You’ll normally have to book a time to see a psychiatrist. If they’re busy, you might have to wait a while before your first appointment. If things are desperate, tell them it’s urgent – they might be able to clear a spot, or send you to someone with more time.

All doctors, including psychiatrists, have to keep what they talk about with their patients confidential. This is true unless a court orders them to give up information, or they have to stop serious harm coming to you or another person. It’s always a good idea to talk about what is and is not private with someone who’s treating you, so you’re both on the same page.


A psychiatrist working in a public hospital or mental health centre is free of charge. But psychiatrists who work privately will ask you to pay each time you visit. Ask them how much it costs before each visit, and how much you’ll get back from Medicare. Psychiatrists in private practice sometimes bulk bill as well. That means they’ll get a cheque direct from Medicare, and you just have to bring your Medicare card or number. You can find this out by looking at the family’s Medicare card, or by ringing Medicare on 132 011. Once you’re fifteen, you can get your own card.

What are  psychiatrists trained to do?

Assess someone’s state of mind
diagnose a mental illness
use a multitude of psychological treatments (see my Services section on the website)
use a range of appropriate medications
be supportive and understanding of a person’s feelings, culture and family background

How do I get to see a psychiatrist ?

Generally your GP will need to refer you and give you a letter describing the particular difficulty you are suffering with. You have to book an appointment to see a psychiatrist. You may need to wait for a while before the first appointment. If you are feeling very unwell, or at risk of self-harm, tell them it’s urgent and they generally fit you in somewhere.

What might the psychiatrist ask you about?

He will ask about the problem which you are concerned with as well as what has happened to you in the past, your family background,  your feelings and thoughts as well as details of physical health. These will help him understand more thoroughly your particular situation.

What can you ask the psychiatrist?

Your diagnosis (if any)
How best to help your difficulties
What to do in a crisis or if new problems come up
Guidance about further information like websites, books, self-help groups
Fees and Medicare rebates