Psychiatric Nursing Programs in the U.S.
You can use your nursing skills and knowledge to help patients with mental illness. Attending a psychiatric or mental health nursing program is the first step. On this page, get more information about psychiatric nurse practitioner programs, psychiatric nurse training, salary ranges across the country, and what it’s like to work in this specialty. Discover the different work environments where psychiatric nurses are needed to help patients heal. Find the right program for you by contacting our featured nursing programs or searching for mental health nursing programs in your area.
Explore which nursing specialty is a match for you with our Nursing Specialties Quiz that tests your personality and matches it to your nursing career!
Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurses (which, at the MSN level, are certified as either Nurse Practitioners or Clinical Nurse Specialists) provide a wide range of care and treatment to individual patients or groups of patients suffering from mental illnesses, as well as their families and communities. Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses can also specialize in distinct populations, such as Adult, Child, or Adolescent, or in areas such as Substance Abuse or Forensics.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), with over 6,000 members, is the leading professional association for psychiatric / mental health nurses. There’s also a good background article on Psychiatric / Mental Health Nursing on the Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow website.
What Does A Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner or CNS Actually Do?
Advanced Practice Nurses (NP or CNS) with a psychiatric/mental health specialization are responsible for assessing, diagnosing, and treating a range of psychiatric issues. Because of the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of psychiatric issues, the specialty requires nurses to develop expertise in a number of different, inter-related areas – such as biology, pharmacology, sociology, and psychology.
Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurses practice in many different settings – from traditional healthcare settings like hospitals and clinics, to homes, offices, and others. They can practice independently, and in many states they can prescribe medication as well.
Learn About Psychiatric Nursing from Someone in the Field
Below, BestNursingDegree.com interviews Jim Shearer, a psychiatric nurse with over 30 years of experience. He is currently a nurse manager for a behavioral health unit. In the video, he discusses psychiatric mental health nursing and how to get started in the field. For more videos, FAQs, and videos on this and related topics, navigate over to our resource center!
How Do I Become A Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
The first step in becoming a Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner is, of course, to find an accredited Masters of Science in Nursing program with a Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner tracks. Fortunately, these are plentiful. There are a number of online options available as well.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center is the primary certification body for Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioners and Clinical Nurse Specialists. You will be able to take the appropriate certification exam at the end of your degree program. As always, make sure to check with the Board of Nursing in the state where you intend to practice, for any state specific requirements. While you can become a Psychiatric & Mental Health Nurse without an MSN (as long as you are an RN, of course – the ANCC offers certification for Psychiatric & Mental Health RNs), the Masters level certification brings with it many additional responsibilities, including the ability to practice independently.
Expert Advice: What do Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses do?
Lorry Schoenly, PhD, RN is a nurse writer and educator with over 25 years of experience. She has been certified in five different clinical specialties including critical care and emergency nursing. Starting as an associate degree registered nurse, she continued her schooling in traditional and distance-learning settings to obtain a BSN, MSN, and PhD in nursing while working full-time and raising a family. Lorry teaches nursing in a variety of settings including webinars and online nursing courses.
Psychiatric-Mental Health (PMH) nurses provide nursing care to individuals with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. They also care for those with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders. PMH nurse positions are found in care settings across the age continuum including pediatric, adolescent, adult and geriatric populations. Positions can be found in inpatient and outpatient settings, mental health agencies, primary care offices and correctional settings such as jails and juvenile detention centers.
What to Expect
Psychiatric-Mental Health nurses perform comprehensive biopsychosocial assessment, including family histories, to assist in treatment determinations. Psychiatric medications are administered and side effects are monitored. These nurses are an active part of the multidisciplinary treatment team, collaborating with psychiatric social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists on treatment goals. They may also assist in coordinating community resources for patients and their families.
What You Will Need
A key component of psychiatric-mental health nursing is the development of a therapeutic relationship with the patient and family. PMH nurses positively engage the patient in the care plan and work to empower the patient to take actions that will move him or her toward improved mental health. This work may involve explaining medication, managing side-effects, easing the patient’s adjustment to a chronic psychiatric condition, and helping a patient moderate lifestyle and habits to overcome a debilitating condition.
PMH nurses also assist family members and significant others in understanding and supporting the treatment plan created for the affected individual. Strong communication and leadership skills are required to accomplish this objective.
For example, a PMH nurse may work with an adolescent and her family to deal with an eating disorder. Under the direction of a psychiatrist or psychologist, a nurse may approach the family to evaluate possible family stressors and develop action steps to overcome them. In addition, the nurse may work with the adolescent to set eating goals and explore control issues.
How to Get Started
Psychiatric-mental health nurses work in a variety of settings including acute care, day care and mental health specialty hospitals. In addition, PMH positions are available at drug rehab facilities or community centers. Many nurses experience psychiatric mental health through clinical rotations during initial training. Since this can be a limited experience based on availability, you may wish to volunteer at a PMH setting to see if this is a good fit for your skills and interests.Many psychiatric facilities or units will hire nurses without experience in the specialty. If you choose this route, be sure to select a position that has a comprehensive orientation program, which focuses on the types of patients for whom you will be caring.
- New York Presbyterian Hospital – Psychiatry and Mental Health – Health Library
- The Mental Health Minute
- Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow: Psychiartic Mental Health Nurse Career Info