What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness — in 2016, that meant 44.7 million people who require proper medical attention. Providing this type of care is what a psychiatric nurse practitioner does on a daily basis. Equipped with an in-depth education and professional skills, psychiatric nurse practitioners give patients the treatment and guidance they need throughout their journey to wellness.

The Job Responsibilities of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners working in the psychiatric mental health specialty assist individuals and their families and communities with a full range of psychiatric services.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) are responsible for assessing the mental health status of patients by studying their relevant medical history, performing comprehensive psychiatric evaluations, and identifying risk factors that might affect a patient’s mental health. They make diagnoses of their patients’ mental illness based on their assessment, and then determine what will be the most effective plan of care. By utilizing their knowledge of psychotherapy modalities and psychopharmacology, and in collaboration with doctors and other professionals, these advanced-practice nurses put their patients on a regimen of therapy and prescription medication to improve their mental health.

As they evaluate their patients’ progress throughout their lifespan, psychiatric nurse practitioners provide support and education to families and communities. They can also be instrumental in policy development and health care reform as it relates to mental health issues and the treatment of mental health patients.

Key Skills and Attributes

The work that psychiatric nurse practitioners do is both emotionally and mentally demanding. It requires a broad set of professional skills honed over the course of their careers that allow these nurse practitioners to manage their stress and workload while providing a high-level of care.


The subject of mental health can be difficult for patients and their families to openly discuss. It is important that psychiatric nurse practitioners act professionally, showing respect and tact when communicating with patients and their families, and when assessing and evaluating a patient’s mental health. They need to establish trust that will enable people to confide in them while maintaining organizational values and acting as an advocate for those coping with mental illness. In addition, psychiatric nurse practitioners must be able to manage the pressure and stress that comes with their position.

Analytical Skills

Determining the scope and specifics of a mental illness can be difficult because its signs are not often clear and may differ from patient to patient. Psychiatric nurse practitioners must be able to synthesize diverse data and patient research in conjunction with their in-depth medical knowledge and the insights from other professionals. The ability to analyze all of this information will allow them to design plans for care and therapy for their patients.

Problem Solving

Psychiatric nurse practitioners find solutions. It is their job to help patients to manage their mental health issues. Problem-solving skills are necessary throughout the treatment process. These skills help in identifying key risk factors, such as medical and family history of mental illness, trauma, substance abuse, and environment, among other factors. Psychiatric nurse practitioners must be able to collaborate with other professionals, using logic and reason when addressing emotional topics. They are also responsible for the continual evaluation of a patient’s treatment plan and for finding alternate solutions as new challenges arise.

Prerequisites and Qualifications

A psychiatric nurse practitioner is an advanced medical specialist requiring an extensive knowledge of nursing, mental health assessment and diagnosis, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology. A background as a registered nurse (RN) is required, along with a two-year associate degree in nursing, a three-year hospital-based nursing diploma, or a four-year bachelor’s degree at a college or university. Graduates may then establish a specialization in mental health by pursuing a focused master’s or post-master’s certificate program. In this course of study, they will delve deeper into the skills needed for a career in this specialization. Accredited certifications, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Psychiatric–Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Board Certification (PMHNP-BC), are required for many professional positions. This credential is awarded to those who meet education and experience requirements and pass a certification examination.

Opportunities for Career Advancement as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 31 percent from 2016 to 2026. As mental health awareness continues to rise and with individuals, families, and communities who live with mental illness seeking help, the psychiatric nurse practitioners job outlook will continue to grow as well. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings, including psychiatric hospitals, independent practices, assisted-living facilities, and mental health centers. There are many other unique roles available to psychiatric nurse practitioners with advanced degrees and experience, such as university nurse educator, psychotherapist, and psychiatric primary care provider.

Nurse practitioners are continuing to take on more varied roles in health care. Within the mental health field, psychiatric nurse practitioners perform a wide range of duties that help patients cope with mental health issues. Well-educated and experienced nurse practitioners have the necessary tools to make positive advances in the mental health of their patients, while promoting mental health awareness among individuals and communities across the nation.

Learn More

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners play a significant role in the modern health care system. Our online post-master’s certificates can help you develop your communication and therapeutic skills so you can assess, diagnose, manage, and treat mental illness across a variety of populations.

Recommended Reading:

How Psychiatric Nursing is Fighting the Mental Health Stigma
7 Career Specializations for Nurse Practitioners
Career Outlook: The Mental Health Nurse


American Psychiatric Nurses Association
Northwestern Community Services Board
Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Institute of Mental Health
The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties