Psychiatrists are specialist physicians, trained to deal with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders.

Psychiatry is one of the oldest medical specialty areas.  Psychiatrists collect and maintain patient information and records, including their developmental, emotional, social and medical history, obtained from the patients, their relatives or other professionals.   They then examine the patient or conduct laboratory or diagnostic tests on them, to provide information on their general physical condition or mental disorder.  The patient data or test findings are then analysed to diagnose the nature or extent of the mental disorder, then the psychiatrist prescribes, directs or administers psychotherapeutic treatments or medications to treat the mental, emotional or behavioural disorders. 

They design individualised care plans, using a variety of treatments, and collaborate with physicians, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses or other professionals to discuss the treatment plans and progress.  Treatment of mental illnesses usually involves a combination of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, hospitalisation and medication.  Psychotherapy involves regular discussions with patients about their problems; the psychiatrist helps them to find solutions through changes in their behavioural patterns, the exploration of their past experiences, or group and family therapy sessions.  Psychoanalysis involves long-term psychotherapy and counselling for patients.  In many cases, medications are administered to correct chemical imbalances that cause emotional problems.  They advise or inform the guardians, relatives or significant others of the patients' condition or treatment.  Outpatients or other patients are counselled during office visits.

Psychiatrists also attend conferences or seminars, may be involved in research and publish their findings to increase the understanding of mental, emotional or behavioural states or disorders, or teach at universities. In addition they may serve on committees to promote or maintain community mental health services or delivery systems, or serve as consultants to courts, special schools and community agencies, preparing and submitting case reports.

Areas of specialisation include:

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry -- work with children and teens
  • Adult psychiatry - work with adults experiencing mental illness or psychological distress
  • Addiction psychiatry - work with people suffering from addiction and substance abuse issues, such as drugs or alcohol
  • Community psychiatry - maintain mental health in the community
  • Organisational Psychiatry - practice psychiatry in the workplace and organisational settings
  • Forensic psychiatry (law psychiatry) - work in the courts and criminal justice system
  • Geriatric psychiatry - work with the elderly
  • Neuropsychiatry - treat mental disorders associated with nervous system problems, brain diseases and brain injuries
  • Mental retardation
Most psychiatrists work indoors in offices, which are usually comfortable and attractive to the public. However the actual setting depends on the type, size, location, and financial resources of the employer.

Personal Requirements

  • want to help people
  • enjoy studying and learning
  • able to communicate well in writing and in speech
  • able to work well under stress
  • handle emergencies well
  • empathy with people
  • emotional stability and maturity
  • above average intelligence
  • able to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of patients
  • good physical health and stamina

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

  • Pass matric with a Bachelor's pass
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university
  • All applications for admission to MBChB and Medical degrees are subject to selection.
  • Due to the limited number of spaces available, only a small percentage of applicants are admitted.

What to Study

Degree: MBChB degree - UP, UKZN, UCT, UFS, UL

  • Theoretical training: 6 years
  • Student internship: 1 year
  • Internship: 2 years 
  • Community Service: 1 year at an approved medical faculty.

Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is mandatory for this occupation. Registration as an Independent Medical Practitioner with the HPCSA will only be permitted once all the necessary criteria have been met.

Specialisation in Psychiatry

To specialise in this area, a number of years of post-graduate study will be required.

Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to this area of specialisation. This information can be found in the various sections under the Professional Board for Medical and Dental (and medical science) professionals.

Refer to the medical faculty of the relevant university for additional information.


  • hospitals and clinics
  • universities
  • government departments, e.g. Departments of Education and Health
  • self-employment, in private practice

Further Information

South African Society of Psychiatry (SASOP)
Unit 16, Northcliff Office Park
203 Beyers Naudé Drive
Northcliff, Johannesburg
Tel: (011) 340-9000

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part time work in a psychiatric hospital, private doctor’s office or other facility, which offers health care services
  • try to get as much experience as possible by working with all types of people, such as in a community centre
  • if possible, arrange to speak to a psychiatrist about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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