Updated 23 June 2014

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has specialised in psychiatry. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication and psychotherapy to treat depression and other mental illnesses.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who has specialised in the field of psychiatry. To be able to practice, a psychiatrist must be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), as a psychiatrist, under the specialist register.

Because psychiatrists have a medical training, they can examine, diagnose and treat patients with medical illness that can lead to mental problems. Psychiatrists are also trained in psychotherapy and therefore are able to treat patients through psychotherapeutic interventions.

Psychiatrists can prescribe medication and psychotherapy to treat mental illness.

A psychiatrist must first complete a medical degree. This is usually indicated as a MBCHB or MBBCH degree. This Qualification takes six years to complete. An internship follows that takes another year, and South African doctors are then conscripted to do a year of Community service. All together it takes eight years to be registered as a medical doctor in South Africa.

After this a doctor could specialise and become a “specialist”. It takes another four years of study to gain the qualification to practice as a psychiatrist. This qualification is usually indicated as a MMed Psych or a FF Psych or FC Psych.

There are currently about 350 practicing psychiatrists in South Africa. About 60% of these psychiatrists work in the private sector.

Source: South African Society of Psychiatrists

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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