Q: What is the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, psychotherapist and a community mental health team?

A psychiatrist is a medically-qualified practitioner who will have spent 5-6 years training as a doctor. He or she will then have worked as a doctor in general medicine and surgery for at least a year. He or she will then have had at least 6 years of further training in helping people with psychological problems.

What are a psychiatrist’s special skills?

All psychiatrists will learn how to:

  • assess a person’s state of mind
  • use the “biopsychosocial” model of understanding. This emphasises the importance of a person’s past experiences, family, culture, surroundings and work as well as any medical features.
  • diagnose a mental illness
  • use a range of psychological treatments
  • use a range of medications
  • help a person recover

As well as these ‘core’ skills, a psychiatrist will specialise and develop skills in working with the particular problems that affect different groups of people.

Psychologists have a degree in psychology. Chartered Clinical Psychologists are not usually medically-trained, but have undertaken a long and robust training following their psychology degree. They are primarily concerned with the study of how people think, act, react and interact. For further information about psychology, visit the British Psychological Society website.

A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional who has had further specialist training in psychotherapy.As well as listening and discussing important issues with you, the psychotherapist can suggest strategies for resolving problems and, if necessary, help you to change your attitudes and behaviour.

The Mental Health Team is a group of mental health professionals who work together to help people with a wide range of mental health problems. The different professions all have different knowledge and skills which can be used to tackle problems together.

Futher information on the differences between psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy


  1. How can I see a psychiatrist?

To see a psychiatrist, you will usually need a referral from your general practitioner (GP), in the same way you would with any other specialist. Within the NHS, most referrals will go to the mental health team. Initially, you may be seen by a team member who is not a psychiatrist. If the team member feels that you ought to see a psychiatrist, they will arrange an appointment for you.


  1. How can I see a psychiatrist privately?

Most private psychiatrists would still prefer a referral from your GP. Your GP may be able to recommend psychiatrists who practise privately. Local private hospitals may also be able to advise you about this. Some psychiatrists may advertise in your local business directory. If they have the title ‘MRCPsych’ (Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists) or ‘FRCPsych’ (Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists), this means that they are current members of the College.


  1. What kind of psychiatrist can I be referred to?

You will most likely be referred to a psychiatrist who specialises in an area of psychiatry that relates to your problem. The areas include:

  1. Can the College provide a list of psychiatrists?

The College is unable to recommend or supply names of psychiatrists. In order to find a psychiatrist, you should ask your GP or local hospital. You can obtain lists of local GPs, from your pharmacist and/or hospitals by contacting NHS Choices.


  1. Is the psychiatrist a member of the College?

You can search the Public Online Membership List to confirm whether or not the psychiatrist is a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Please note, not all psychiatrists are members of the College.


  1. Can I speak to a psychiatrist at the College?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional body for psychiatrists in the UK, but the College is unable to supply names of members, or to recommend psychiatrists.


  1. How can I find out what speciality a psychiatrist is trained in?

You can search for their details on the Medical Register, a directory of all doctors practising in the UK, by visiting the General Medical Council website.


Q: Where do psychiatrists work?

The majority of psychiatrists work within (NHS) the National Health Service, although some work privately. Psychiatrists also work as part of a mental health team.


Q: What qualification does a psychiatrist need?

A qualified psychiatrist will have a medical degree.  They will then have completed two years of Foundation Training and a further six years of specialty training within psychiatry.

To become a consultant psychiatrist, they would also need to obtain a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), be fully registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and listed on theirSpecialist Register.


Q: How do I find a psychiatrist in another country?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional and educational body for psychiatrists in the United Kingdom. It is not possible to include information on issues outside of our geographical area as the availability of mental health services, local legislation, and the types of treatments available is different in each country.  We are only able to comment on psychiatric practice in the United Kingdom.

You will be able to find which psychiatric organisation is relevant to your country by looking at theWorld Psychiatric Association website. The World Psychiatric Association is a group of International Psychiatric Societies.


Q: What do I do if I am unhappy with my psychiatrist?

Everyone is entitled to a second opinion.  You need to ask your GP, or your psychiatrist, to refer you to another psychiatrist for a second opinion.


Q: How do I make a complaint about my care and treatment or the care and treatment of another?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is not the disciplinary body for its members and, as such, is not able to deal with complaints about psychiatrists. You can write to, or speak with your psychiatrist to tell them how you feel about your care and treatment. Your hospital will have a complaints procedure. To make a complaint, contact either the Complaints Officer or the relevant Hospital Manager, or ask somebody to do this on your behalf.

If you have concerns about a hospital, care home or health service, you should contact the body which is responsible for the inspection, monitoring and regulation of health and social care in your area

Q: How do I make a complaint about the conduct of a psychiatrist?

You can complain directly to your psychiatrist. If you are unhappy with their response, you can complain to their employer, clinic or hospital. If the complaint is to report serious misconduct, you can complain to the General Medical Council (Tel: 0845 357 0022).  The last step for dealing with unresolved complaints is to contact the Health Service Ombudsman (Tel: 0345 015 4033) who acts as a final arbitrator.


Q: What should I do if I wish to make a complaint about a psychiatrist working in the private/independent sector?

You can complain to the clinic where the psychiatrist works. In cases of professional misconduct, you can also contact the General Medical Council (Tel: 0161 923 6602).


Q: As a carer can I make a complaint on behalf of the person I care for?

Yes you can.  In some cases you may need the consent of the person you care for. You may follow the same complaints procedure as above.  The College has more information on the Partners in Care pages.


Q: If I’m sectioned under the Mental Health Act, how do I make a complaint?

If your complaint is about the use of the Mental Health Act, you can contact the Care Quality Commission (Tel: 03000 616161). You can write or speak to the Complaints Officer at the hospital, or ask somebody to do this on your behalf.


Q: What should I do if I am worried about a relative or friend?

You should encourage them to go and see their GP. Further information about mental health problems and their treatment are available on our website.

If you are worried about someone who is very unwell and appear to be a risk to themselves or others, you can call the police or NHS 111 (Tel: 111). The police can take someone who appears to be very ill to a mental health professional for assessment and help.


Q: Who else can I talk to if I am worried about a mental health issue?

There are many organisations that run helplines with advice, information and support. Details of key helpline numbers and website addresses can be found on the College website.


Q: How can I find out more about a mental health topic or problem?

The College publishes a series of leaflets which give information about different mental health problems and treatments. These are free to view and download from our website.


Q: How do I get further information about the medication?

There are many different ways to find out this information. You can ask your:

  • GP
  • Pharmacist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Mental Health Team

You could look up medications in the British National Formulary (BNF). This is a directory of drugs which are listed alphabetically.  There is an entry for every drug which gives information on dosage and side-effects, etc…

Some drug companies run helplines.  Contact details are available on the drug information leaflet or pack label.

The Electronic Medicines Compendium (EMC) website stores a copy of all approved drug information leaflets.

The College has also published information on some drugs and therapies that are used to treat specific mental health problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease.


Q: How do I get hold of a psychiatrist who will act as an ‘expert witness’?

The College cannot to recommend or supply names of psychiatrists.

Solicitors can search through the lists of psychiatrists that are registered with any of the following websites:

Q: What is the 1983 Mental Health Act?

The Mental Health Act is an Act of Parliament that allows for people who are mentally unwell to be admitted to hospital for assessment and treatment against their wishes. Many people will be admitted to hospital as informal patients; this means that they have voluntarily agreed to go. However, compulsory admission may sometimes be necessary when someone who has such severe problems that they are a risk to their own health or the health or safety of other people, and refuse to go to hospital. In these cases, compulsory admission can be arranged under one of the sections of the 1983 Mental Health Act, and the person is detained ‘on section’ (or ‘sectioned’).


Q: What does it been to be ‘sectioned’?

The College has produced a factsheet on being detained on a section in England and Wales.  The factsheet also includes links to organisations which provide information on being detained on a section on Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Q: How can I access my health records?

To request access to your health records, you must make a request in writing, or by email, to:

  • for GP records, your doctor.
  • for hospital records, the hospital’s Records Manager.

The maximum fee charged is £10 for computer records, or £50 for copies of paper records, or a mixture of computer and paper records.  Your records are protected by the Data Protection Act.


Q: I need urgent support:

You can contact the following organisations:

Q: I need urgent medical help:

Contact one of the following:

Q: I am in a public place and I am concerned that someone is very ill and may be a risk to themselves or others:

Call the police, or the ambulance service (999).  The police can take someone who appears very ill to see a doctor for assessment and help.


Q: What does the Royal College of Psychiatrists do?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional medical body responsible for supporting psychiatrists throughout their careers, from training through to retirement, and in setting and raising standards for psychiatry in the United Kingdom.

The College aims to improve the outcomes of people with mental illness, and the mental health of individuals, their families and communities.  In order to achieve this, the College sets standards and promotes excellence in psychiatry; leads, represents and supports psychiatrists; improved the scientific understanding of mental illness; works with and advocates for patients, carers and their organisations.  Nationally and internationally, the College has a vital role in representing the expertise of the psychiatric profession to governments and other agencies.

For further information about the history of the College and its work, visit the College Archives.


Q: What is a Member or Fellow of the College?

Members of the College are awarded different grades of membership depending on various factors, including:

  • the contribution they have made to the field of psychiatry
  • their degree of experience as a professional psychiatrist
  • the amount of time they have been a member.

For further information see About College Membership.


Q: I am a member of the public and would like to know more about, or become involved in the work of the College?

If you are a member of the public and would like to hear more about what the College is doing, or be involved in the work of the College, such as new publications, consultations about policy issues, or even help us to improve mental health services, you can join the College Service User and Carer Network.


Q: I am interested in a career in psychiatry

If you are still at school, you can find information about the psychiatric profession and how to become a psychiatrist: Information for Sixth Formers and also take our quiz to see whether you would make a good psychiatrist.

If you’re a medical student who is interested in specialising in psychiatry, you can find information about further training, day-to-day work and the areas of specialisation on: Information for Medical Students and Foundation Trainees.

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