Clinical psychologists help patients through talk therapy, while psychiatrists are medical doctors who are qualified to provide spoken therapy as well as prescribe medication to their patients. Therapeutic practitioners use the best knowledge in their field to help individuals suffering from some kind of mental illness or emotional distress. Doctors in the field of academic psychiatry conduct studies and research to find the best ways for therapists to help their patients.
Academics in any discipline seek to advance knowledge in their field. Professionals in academic psychiatry are usually required to focus on conducting research instead of using the field's current body of knowledge to help patients. Since psychiatrists generally make money by seeing patients, psychiatric researchers usually have to work for an institution or university that will pay them and sponsor their research.
Studies to determine the best treatments for different conditions frequently involve clinical trials to assess their efficacy. Professionals in academic psychiatry conduct these trials by administering a treatment under study to one group of test subjects, then collecting data that measures how the condition improved or did not. The researchers then analyze this data to see if there is statistical evidence that the treatment under investigation helps the subjects improve. These new treatments could be spoken therapies or involve new drugs.
Before doctors in academic psychiatry can conduct clinical trials, they must learn a variety of research methodologies and procedures for using human subjects. This allows researchers to design studies that collect reliable data for analysis, and incorporates the necessary protections for its subjects. Testing that involves people is regulated by strict rules and guidelines in most countries in order to protect human subjects from undue duress or harm. If researchers violate these protections, then not only could they and their sponsoring institution be subject to legal action, but any data they collect will be ignored by most of the medical community.
Academic psychiatrists often conduct research on a particular topic, such as treating one condition or using specific kind of therapy. Conducting extensive research on a narrow range of topics allows these professionals to become experts in these areas. Researchers can use this expertise to teach medical students and provide ongoing education to practicing psychiatrists. This ongoing education can take the form of publishing findings in major medical journals or giving lectures at medical conferences. In this way, academic psychiatrists help improve the field of psychiatry by teaching new doctors the latest research, and keeping practicing psychiatrists up-to-date on current discoveries.