What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do? A Guide

Psychiatric nurse practitioners specialize in working in the mental health field. Like psychiatrists, they diagnose and treat mental health patients. However, unlike psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses are Registered Nurses (RNs) who have completed their graduate, master’s, or doctorate as licensed nurses. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in every five adults in the U.S.A. suffers from at least one mental health condition. Additionally, about 8% of adults suffer from substance abuse disorder. More and more adolescents and teenagers struggle with mental health conditions over time. 

Hence, mental health needs much more attention than before and needs to cover all ages. That means that the scope of mental health practitioners has gone beyond psychiatrists. 

This guide delves into the role of psychiatric nurses for those planning to expand their expertise to enter the psychiatric field.

1. Get the Required Prerequisites and Qualifications

To become a licensed mental health practitioner, a Registered Nurse must first gain the relevant qualifications. Nurses who have completed their Bachelor’s degree can begin working as Registered Nurses. It is the prerequisite to becoming a nurse. Alternatively, you can also get a two-year associate degree followed by a three-year hospital-based nursing diploma. 

However, work might restrain you from pursuing your education. If you want to specialize in mental health or psychiatric nursing, you can enroll in an online psych NP program without disrupting your work schedule. During the program, you will learn how to perform a psych evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, strategies for managing mental health disorders, and more for all ages. You can assess a patient’s mental state and design treatment plans accordingly. 

2. Explore Career Opportunities and Advancements 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nurse practitioners’ employment rate will increase by 40% until 2031. This projection, combined with mental health awareness and attention, means that the demand for mental health nurse practitioners is sure to rise. 

More and more people are becoming comfortable in seeking help for their mental health conditions. Hence opportunities for psychiatric nurse practitioners to grow and advance their careers will surely increase. They can find work in multiple settings, including: 

  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Assisted-living facilities
  • Independent practices
  • Mental health centers

Nurses with advanced degrees and extensive experience can unlock unique roles such as psychotherapists, university nurse educators, or psychiatric primary care providers. 

Providing primary care as a psychiatric nurse involves more duties and responsibilities. Nurses working in this area care for the patient continuously until they get better. 

Highly qualified and experienced psychiatric nurses can also make a legislative impact by influencing mental health policies and improving community health standards.

3. Develop Core Skills and Abilities

During their training, nurses learn many more skills than just technical ones. Since their roles are demanding and involve dealing with different people, they must develop some core skills and abilities.

The foremost and most important skill is professionalism. Nurses need to communicate with patients and their families professionally. It is equally important to show respect and remain unbiased while treating different patients. Objectivity is an essential aspect of this profession. It makes the patient feel secure, knowing they are dealing with a professional, and enables nurses to perform their jobs well.

Professionalism helps build trust between a practitioner and a patient. Psychiatric evaluations require mental health patients to be more open about their condition, thoughts, and feelings. Nurses need to be able to advocate for them while maintaining organizational values. 

Analytical skills are crucial to becoming a successful psychiatric nurse. Mental conditions are often not clear or easy to diagnose. Nurses must combine a patient’s mental health history, past diagnosis, conditions and behaviors, and current condition. They may be able to access all the required data, but only a professional can analyze and administer treatment. 

Decision-making and problem-solving are part of the daily tasks of a psychiatric nurse. They need to decide on patient healthcare plans and manage their condition strategically. Chronic patients or complex cases require problem-solving and rational decision-making abilities. 

4. Collaborate with Other Professionals

Psychiatric nurses seldom work in isolation. They often have to collaborate with multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary professionals. For example, a nurse in a psychic facility may have to consult a patient’s psychiatrist before proceeding with the analysis. 

Similarly, nurses working in ketamine treatment centers collaborate with psychiatrists and physicians to develop a plan for the patient’s treatment. 

Collaborating with primary care physicians and health providers is common in most areas for psychiatric nurses. To better understand a patient’s mental condition, they may require data on their physical health and lifestyle choices. Eating disorders, sleep disorders, or personality disorders may be related to environmental or physical factors that a psychiatric nurse must analyze. 

Collaborative skills help psychiatric nurses during research since they may need to work with interdisciplinary professionals daily. They act as a team to work on research projects. Their teams may even change as their research area changes after a project ends. 

5. Scope of Practice

The scope of psychiatric nurse practice varies from state to state. You may require a license to practice in the state in which you live. If you change states, you may need to apply for that state’s licensure. You may apply for multi-state licensure after ensuring residency documents of that state. You can learn more about it by visiting the Nursing Licensure by State website. 

Washington, D.C., and 22 other States allow nurse practitioners to have full practice authority. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work with physicians in states where their practice is restricted or limited. 

The scope of a psychiatric nurse also involves following some steps for patient care. The first step entails a thorough examination and assessment. The second step is diagnosing and educating the patient’s family regarding their health. The next step involves treatment and medications. The last step involves psychotherapy sessions and aftercare. 


A psychiatric nurse practitioner’s career includes several aspects. They can pursue different roles within the psychiatric field and work in various settings. The practitioner’s job typically involves examining, diagnosing, and treating mental health disorders. 

A psychiatric nurse’s career path begins with becoming a Registered Nurse by completing a Bachelor’s degree and then specializing in the psych field. The more experienced and qualified psychiatric nurses are, the more impact they can make. They can also influence mental health policies and improve the mental healthcare system.

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