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Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Career GuideEverything you need to know about becoming a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PHMNP), including a psychiatric nurse practitioner's responsibilities, education requirements, and the importance of this work in providing mental health care. Discover the unique skills and knowledge these nurse practitioners possess to support individuals with mental health disorders and improve their overall well-being.

Getting Started: Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner FAQs

What is a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

A Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PHMNP) is a certified advanced practice professional responsible for the care of patients diagnosed with mental disorders and behavioral problems. Depending on the state, some PHMNPs can practice with little to no physician supervision allowing them to establish themselves as experts in mental health.

Because of their core education in the nursing principles and practices outside this specialty, a PHMNP tends to bring the holistic ethos of mind and body care, along with a high level of emotional intelligence, that enables them to tailor each patient’s care plan beyond a standard approach to diagnosis.

These practitioners typically hold a Master's or Doctorate degree in nursing with specialized training in psychiatric and mental health care. Additionally, they must obtain certification as a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner through a national certifying body, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), to practice legally in their respective regions or states.

What does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner do?

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) provide a range of mental health treatment and support services to patients and their families. In addition to working with doctors to establish a diagnosis and prescribe medication, Psychiatric NPs create holistic treatment plans that prioritize a dynamic level of educational and professional support specific to each patient’s psychiatric needs.

The specific duties and responsibilities of a PHMNP will depend on the institution where they work and whether they’re functioning within a more acute psychiatric specialty. That being said, most PHMNPs are responsible for the diagnostic care and wellness of their patients, including the following areas of expertise:

- Assessment: Using present symptoms and a patient’s personal and family health history, you’ll perform comprehensive evaluations, make diagnoses, and identify any patient risks. You’ll consider potential developmental issues, trauma, neurological dysfunction and other psychological disorders to make an informed treatment plan and support system for each of your patients.

- Collaboration: As a PHMNP, you’ll work closely with other doctors in and outside of your practice to create a holistic care plan for your patients, connecting them with resources and options for their unique psychiatric needs.

- Counseling/Support: Some PHMNPs function as a counselor for their patients, bringing their diverse knowledge of mental health diagnoses and treatments to provide informed and compassionate advice to individuals in need of additional support. A PHMNP can also offer support sessions for family members or groups of people who’ve been touched by mental health disorders in any way.

- Documentation: Thorough documentation is essential to mental health treatments. Medications and treatment methods can have different effects on patients, and have the potential to make things worse if not properly monitored. As a PHMNP, you’ll record a patient’s medical and psychiatric history, and their progress after each appointment or session, making it easier to identify issues or communicate your patient’s needs to other care providers.

- Education: Information can offer a lot of comfort to patients and families dealing with mental health or behavioral disorders. As a PHMNP, people will look to you for advice and insight on their situation, and it’s your responsibility to be honest and straightforward with your answers to give them a full understanding of what this all means for them moving forward. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to normalize discussions surrounding mental health in your professional and personal communities, hopefully making people more comfortable to ask for and accept help.

- Innovation: PHMNPs are constantly having to think of new ways to communicate with or treat their patients, leading to innovative, individualized methods, as well as contributing to broader developments.

What’s the demand for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners?

The demand for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) is increasing and projected to continue growing in the United States and many other countries.

A number of factors contribute to this growing demand:

- Increase in mental health awareness
- Shortage of mental health providers
- Integration of mental health in primary care
- Growing focus on holistic care
- Broader adoption of telehealth and remote services accessible to rural and underserved areas

How much does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner make?

The average Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner salary is $118,000, according to 2023 data from

However, it's essential to keep in mind that salaries can change over time, and regional differences can significantly impact compensation. PMHNPs working in urban areas or areas with higher costs of living may generally earn higher salaries compared to those in rural or less densely populated regions.

Moreover, advanced degrees, additional certifications, and specialized skills may also influence a PMHNP's earning potential. For example, those with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree or certifications in specific psychiatric subspecialties might command higher salaries.

How do you become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

  • Here are the steps you need to take to become a PMHNP:

  • Get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
    Earning your BSN typically takes four years. As a future Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PHMNP), it could serve you to also prioritize additional psychology courses to get a more dynamic understanding of different disorders and treatment.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN
    As with most nursing specialties, PHMNPs are required to first earn their licenses as a registered nurse, working for a minimum of a year to gain vital clinical experience.
  • Get a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
    Apply to and complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program with a specialization in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing.

    Earning your MSN typically takes four years to complete at a full-time capacity, though some programs offer part-time options for students who require more flexibility in their schedule.

    Ensure that the program is accredited by the appropriate nursing education accrediting bodies in your country (e.g., Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing [ACEN], Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education [CCNE]).
  • Get your Board Certification in Psychiatric-Mental Health from the American Nurses Credentialing Center
    Before being able to take the official exam, you’ll be required to complete specific course work, gain a minimum of 500 hours of supervised experience in a Psychiatric-Mental Health Program, and have clinical training in psychotherapy.
  • You’re ready to work as a PMHNP!
    Once you've obtained your PMHNP certification and license, you can start applying for PMHNP positions in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, community mental health centers, private practices, and academic institutions.

    It's essential to research and choose an accredited PMHNP program that aligns with your career goals and interests. Additionally, stay informed about the licensing and certification requirements in your specific region, as they may vary. Remember that the field of nursing is continuously evolving, so keeping up with continuing education and professional development is crucial to providing the best care to your patients.

Where can a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner work?

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) are highly versatile and can work in various healthcare settings, providing mental health care and psychiatric services to individuals across the lifespan. Some of the common places where PMHNPs can work include:

- Mental Health Clinics and Centers: PMHNPs often work in mental health clinics or centers, providing comprehensive mental health assessments, diagnosing mental health conditions, and offering ongoing treatment and therapy to patients.

- Hospitals: PMHNPs can work in hospitals, both in general psychiatric units and specialized units (e.g., addiction treatment units, geriatric psychiatric units).

- Community Mental Health Centers: These centers cater to the mental health needs of the local community and often employ PMHNPs to provide care to individuals who may not have easy access to other mental health services.

- Private Practices: Some PMHNPs choose to establish their private practices, where they can offer a range of mental health services and therapy to their patients.

- Primary Care Settings: With the increasing emphasis on integrating mental health into primary care, PMHNPs can work in collaboration with primary care providers to address mental health concerns alongside physical health issues.

- Correctional Facilities: PMHNPs may work in jails, prisons, or juvenile detention centers, providing mental health care to incarcerated individuals.

- Colleges and Universities: Many educational institutions have mental health centers where PMHNPs can offer counseling and mental health support to students.

- Disaster Response and Humanitarian Aid Organizations: Crisis events, such as natural disasters, armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, pandemics, and other emergencies, can have profound psychological impacts on individuals and communities. PMHNPs can play a key role in the mental health response, recovery, and resiliency of the communities and aid workers.

- Telehealth and Telemedicine: With the rise of telehealth services, PMHNPs can provide mental health consultations and treatment remotely, expanding access to care for patients in remote or underserved areas.

- Schools: PMHNPs can work in schools to provide mental health services to students, including assessment, counseling, and crisis intervention.

- Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities: PMHNPs may work in these settings, particularly with older adults, to address mental health issues related to aging and provide support for residents.

- Research and Academia: Some PMHNPs may choose to pursue careers in research or academia, contributing to the advancement of psychiatric and mental health nursing through research and teaching.

- Doctors’ Offices: PMHNPs tend to support psychiatrists or physicians in doctor’s offices that are usually focused on some area of mental health. Here, they get a full patient history, perform necessary testing, and assist in diagnosing and connecting patients with the resources for their psychiatric needs.

- Hospitals: PMHNPs are constantly needed in hospitals to help monitor patients with more critical psychiatric ailments, ensuring that medication is working, assessing progress, and connecting patients with psychiatrists or social workers, should they need further help or evaluation.

- Your Own Practice: If you live in a state that allows you to practice independently with your level of training and certification as a PMHNP, you’ll have the opportunity to own your own practice. This means that you’d be able to function as a lead care provider with no supervision, and diagnose and treat patients within the realm of your credentials. Should you take this step, you should make yourself informed on good business practices, as well as the financial and legal risks associated with owning your own medical practice.

The demand for PMHNPs in these settings can vary depending on geographical location, population needs, and healthcare policies. PMHNPs often have the flexibility to choose from a wide range of career options based on their interests and desired patient population.

What areas can a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialize in?

Depending on their level of education, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) can pursue additional specialties within the mental health profession, and can hold a variety of roles ranging from general psychiatric assessments and diagnoses, to working as counselors, to working in a research setting.

At the core of their responsibilities, PMHNPs are adept at conducting comprehensive psychiatric evaluations and making accurate diagnoses. They play a crucial role in identifying mental health conditions, utilizing their extensive knowledge and clinical skills. This foundational aspect of their work is vital across all specialties within psychiatric care.

For those who are inclined towards direct patient interaction, many PMHNPs serve as counselors. In this role, they provide ongoing support and therapy to individuals dealing with mental health challenges. Their training allows them to employ various therapeutic techniques, tailored to meet the unique needs of each patient. This facet of their work is essential in offering personalized care and fostering mental well-being.

Additionally, some PMHNPs choose to specialize in specific areas such as child and adolescent mental health, geriatric psychiatry, substance abuse, or forensic psychiatry. These specializations enable them to focus on particular demographic groups or specific types of mental health issues, thereby enhancing the quality and effectiveness of the care they provide.

Moreover, PMHNPs also have opportunities to contribute to the mental health field through research. Those with a penchant for academic and investigative work may engage in studies aimed at advancing psychiatric care. This can involve exploring new treatment methods, studying the efficacy of various therapeutic approaches, or contributing to the broader understanding of mental health disorders.

In conclusion, the roles and specialties available to PMHNPs are diverse and dynamic. Their contribution to the mental health profession is invaluable, whether they are conducting assessments, providing counseling, specializing in a particular area, or engaging in research. Their work not only addresses immediate mental health needs but also paves the way for future advancements in psychiatric care.
Being a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner is a demanding profession. Because you’ll likely see many patients with completely different mental disorders or behavioral issues every day, it’s important that you’re naturally adaptable and emotionally intelligent. When treating and communicating with patients who might not be able to easily understand or communicate their own needs, you’ll be responsible for identifying and interpreting their psychiatric needs in a way that is entirely separate from your personal methods of emotional processing.
How Much Does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Make?
The average Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner salary is $118,000, according to 2023 data from
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The Challenges & Rewards of Being a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The role of a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Candy, PhD, RN, NPP, tells us how rewarding it is to be a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.
Video still of Candy Dato in front of hospital beds
The role of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Video summary

As an experienced psychiatric nurse, clinical specialist, therapist, and nurse manager, Candy D., PhD, RN, NPP, is well versed in the many challenges and rewards associated with mental health and behavioral disorders. In helping her patients find methods to reduce or manage emotional pain, cope with trauma, and actively make positive changes in their lives, Candy has formed a deep appreciation for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners' abilities to help their patients discover ways to live their lives without being debilitated by their disorder.

You're helping people discover ways they can reduce their stress, cope with their emotional pain and make positive changes in their lives.
Candy, PhD, RN, NPP | Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Board Certification in Psychiatric-Mental Health Requirements
  • A minimum 500 supervised clinical hours within a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.
  • Complete and pass courses in advanced pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology.
  • Hold a base knowledge in health promotion & maintenance, and diagnosis & disease management.
  • Hold clinical training in at least two types of psychotherapy.
  • Pass the cumulative exam.
Certificates and awards cartoon graphic
The roles of a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PHMNP), licensed clincial social worker, mental-health counselor, psychiatrist, and psychologist are all related to mental health and providing support to individuals with psychological issues. However, they differ in terms of their educational backgrounds, scope of practice, and specific roles within the mental health field. Here's a breakdown based on the differences within these roles.
Paying for Nursing School
Learn more about how to fund your Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner education with nursing scholarships.
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