What You Need to Know About Psychiatrists

in Relationships

By Dr. BL Lim (guest contributor)

In Singapore, many people do not know what psychiatry is or what psychiatrists do. Even healthcare professionals sometimes get confused between psychiatrists and psychologists. Let me explain what Psychiatry is.

What is Psychiatry?

 Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic 31017 - Dr. James Barrett, Lead Clinician at GIC for 25
(photo: Ted Eytan)

Psychiatry is a medical specialization focusing on mental illnesses and disorders. Before Psychiatry, mental disorders were thought of as demonic possessions or character flaws. Sufferers were often locked up and kept away from society. In the 20th century, psychological treatments were discovered for these illnesses. The first medications for psychiatric disorders were discovered in the 1970s.

Who are Psychiatrists?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained and specialize in the field of psychiatry and psychology. As medical doctors, we are trained to identify and diagnose psychiatric and mental disorders. We can then prescribe the necessary treatment for our patients and these can be therapy, medications and even simple lifestyle changes.

When it comes to talk therapy, the role of psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors may overlap. Depending on his training, the psychiatrist may decide to perform the talk therapy with the patients himself. Often, he may work with the psychologist or counselor in his team to implement the therapy.

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist: Who to see?

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(photo: Lance Catedral)

If you suspect you or your loved one has a psychiatric illness or condition, it will be best for you to seek help from a medical doctor. A good starting point may be your family physician or a psychiatrist. Many a times, medical conditions (e.g. Hyperthyroidism) can masquerade as low mood, anxiety or poor sleep issues. You should see someone medically trained to make sure that the psychological condition is not due to a medical problem.

For this reason, in most Singapore public hospitals, you will need to consult a psychiatrist before you can be referred to a psychologist or a counselor for therapy. The psychiatrist is responsible for making the diagnosis and to decide on the treatment plans for you. Only a medically trained doctor can order blood tests or prescribe medications.

For the best outcomes in treatment, a multi-pronged biological-psychological and social approach is recommended. Hence, when considering private care treatment, it is important to remember that a psychiatrist is in the unique position to provide holistic and comprehensive care such as:

  • Exclude other medical problems
  • Diagnose your condition
  • Prescribe the appropriate medication / biological therapy
  • Address psychological issues and perform psychological therapy
  • Advise on lifestyle changes


By Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist in private practice from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, Gleneagles Medical Centre.

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