Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are mental health care professionals who begin their professional careers by attending nursing school, and then going on to complete either master's or doctoral degrees. They are trained to work with individuals and families with psychiatric disorders, and to consult with groups, communities, legislators, educators and corporations. They provide a full range of psychiatric and mental health care, including the administration of psychotherapy and the prescription of medications. In at least 20 states, psychiatric nurses are licensed to treat patients in private-practice venues.
Training for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
A nurse practitioner must obtain at least 6 to 10 years of post-secondary education. The candidate must first earn a 4-year degree in nursing, then complete an approved master's or doctoral degree. The graduate nursing program must include at least 600 hours of clinical work. Finally, the candidate must pass a comprehensive examination, and sit before a board, in order to be certified as a PMHNP.
Services Provided by Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners perform many critically important functions to patients, both in and out of psychiatric settings. Their duties fall into four basic categories.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners assess patients for physical and psychosocial disorders, both to determine the presence of such disorders and to examine the risk factors for developing them. They are also trained to explain disorders to family members, teachers and law enforcement personnel, and to advise others about the most helpful reactions to patient behavior. In such assessments, these professionals consider some or all of the following:
- Family interactions
- Culture and ethnicity
- Social and economic status
- Cognitive ability
Psychiatric nurse practitioners are trained to diagnose mental and neurological problems, and to distinguish between them. Critical thinking, and correct integration and interpretation of data in a diagnostic context, is required.
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners may also practice psychotherapy of various types, including individual, group and family therapy.
Because psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are licensed to do so, they may prescribe, as well as manage, the administration of medication. Medication may be in oral or intramuscular form.
In addition to these four categories, psychiatric nurse practitioners contribute in the larger arenas of policy development and healthcare reform in one or more of the following ways:
- Coaching of nurses or other healthcare professionals
- Teaching as professors
- Working as researchers
- Advising administrators, law enforcement personnel or legislators
Disorders Treated by Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
Psychiatric nurse practitioners diagnose and treat all kinds of psychiatric issues, including, but not limited to:
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Eating disorders
- Gender disorders
- Memory disorders
- Problems of childhood, adolescence or aging
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Settings for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
PMHNPs perform their complex duties in a wide variety of settings. They may be employed by hospitals, clinics and educational institutions. They may practice in settings that offer primary care, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. They may also treat geriatric patients who are in nursing homes, enrolled in senior programs, or require home health care. PMHNPs are also employed in government agencies and prisons, and by relief organizations.
Perspective of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
The approach of PMHNPs to healthcare tends to be more holistic than that of some professionals in the field. PMHNP training, which begins in nursing school, is focused on patient care. Great emphasis is placed on empathy and compassion, and PMHNPs are taught the value of patience. However, they are also cautioned to keep careful boundaries between themselves and their patients in the therapeutic relationship.