What Does a Military Psychiatrist Do?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills

A military psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), with specialty training in psychiatry. The role of the military psychiatrist is to diagnose, treat and manage mental health conditions that may manifest in military personnel and/or their families members. Working as either a civilian or as a direct commissioned officer, the military psychiatrist is charged with improving the lives of military personnel and families impacted by such conditions. Effective treatment and management of conditions is often viewed by the military as enabling military personnel to positively contribute to its overall mission, therefore the attending psychiatrist holds some responsibility in assuring this happens.

The role of a military psychiatrist is to diagnose, treat and manage mental health conditions that may manifest in military personnel or their family members.
The role of a military psychiatrist is to diagnose, treat and manage mental health conditions that may manifest in military personnel or their family members.

An occupational hazard often associated with military service is functioning under highly stressful conditions. These conditions are a result of both combat situations and the unique challenges associated with the military lifestyle. Before working with military personnel, a new military psychiatrist will usually attend a training program where he or she will learn about the military lifestyle as well as how healthcare functions within the military. Upon completion of this training, a military psychiatrist is a better able to understand how the military environment can adversely affect mental health. Equipped with this understanding, he or she is now in a better position to emphasize with military personnel and their families, while still accounting for the overall objectives of the military.

Most countries retain military psychiatrists who provide mental health services to servicemembers who have been involved in battlefield operations.
Most countries retain military psychiatrists who provide mental health services to servicemembers who have been involved in battlefield operations.

Once the military psychiatrist reports from training, he or she will begin handling cases and seeing patients. Ongoing tasks of the job vary, but are usually broken down into a few key areas. Review of existing case histories as well as preparing new ones for patients is one of those tasks. During this process, he or she will evaluate data derived from the cases and assess current treatments methods for effectiveness, while measuring potential for additional treatment.

Case management is another important role the military psychiatrist will perform on an ongoing basis. Management of patient cases will include designing plans to deliver psychiatric services and may include directing mental health facilities. In addition, he or she will often serve as a consulting professional to other mental health or medical professionals, such as psychologists or social workers. Educating both patients and the military public at large on prevention strategies to mitigate mental health issues is often an important duty required of the role. Aligning psychiatric services with other medical services usually falls to the psychiatrist as well due to his or her medical and mental health qualifications.

A military psychiatrist may perform case management on an ongoing basis.
A military psychiatrist may perform case management on an ongoing basis.

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