Do Nurse Practitioners Practice Psychiatry?

iMind Mental Health Solutions Resource


When you step into a mental health center or a psychiatrist’s office, you might expect to be seen by a psychiatrist or a therapist. However, it’s increasingly common to find yourself in the care of a nurse practitioner (NP), particularly in settings focused on mental health. This shift might lead to some important questions: Are these nurse practitioners qualified to provide psychiatric care? What training do they have, and can they offer the same level of expertise and support as psychiatrists?

When you step into a mental health center or a psychiatrist’s office, you might expect to be seen by a psychiatrist or a therapist. However, it’s increasingly common to find yourself in the care of a nurse practitioner (NP), particularly in settings focused on mental health.

A lot of people wonder about the role of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs), their qualifications, capabilities, and how they fit into the broader picture of mental health care. Whether you’re seeking care for the first time or looking to understand the qualifications of the professionals in your ongoing mental health journey, this guide will provide clear insights into the world of psychiatric nursing and what it means for your care.

Who Are Nurse Practitioners?

Nurse practitioners are part of a specialized group of nurses, known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Their qualifications extend beyond the foundational nursing education, encompassing additional and extensive training. Typically, this advanced training involves completing either a master’s or a doctoral degree program in nursing. Nurse practitioners are known for their comprehensive approach to patient care and their ability to provide a wide range of healthcare services.

One of the key aspects of a nurse practitioner’s role is their emphasis on patient-centered care. They focus not only on treating specific health issues but also on the overall well-being of their patients, incorporating aspects of disease prevention, health education, and counseling. Nurse practitioners are equipped with the training to diagnose and treat various medical conditions, have the authority to prescribe medications, and are skilled in overseeing patient care. This level of practice allows them to function autonomously or in collaboration with other healthcare professionals, depending on state laws.

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires first becoming a registered nurse (RN). RN training consists of a nursing program (either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree) and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Registered nurses work alongside physicians, tend to patient needs, and aid to educate patients about their medical conditions.

The difference between an registered nurse and a nurse practitioner lies primarily in the level of autonomy, scope of practice, and educational requirements. While registered nurses play a critical role in patient care, they typically do not have the authority to diagnose conditions or prescribe medications independently. Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, are permitted to do these things, thanks to their advanced education and clinical training. This additional training enables nurse practitioners to take on roles that are more similar to those of physicians, providing high-quality healthcare services, especially in areas where there may be a shortage of doctors.

Specialization in Psychiatry: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are a specialized group of nurse practitioners who focus on mental health care. As advanced practice registered nurses, PMHNPs hold either a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, with a specific concentration in psychiatric and mental health.

The primary role of psychiatric nurse practitioners is to provide complete and thorough mental health care to patients. This includes assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of various mental health issues and psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are trained to understand the complex relationship between physical, emotional, and mental health. They use their training and experience to develop personalized treatment plans that usually include psychotherapy, medication management, and lifestyle counseling.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are authorized to prescribe psychiatric medication, which sets them apart from other mental health professionals like psychologists or therapists. Their scope of practice allows them to work independently or together with other healthcare providers, such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, depending on state regulations.

What Can Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Do?

In their day-to-day practice, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners provide care to patients across various settings, including community health clinics, mental health clinics, hospitals and private practices.

Psychiatrists often work in similar settings as psychiatric nurse practitioners, such as hospitals, mental health clinics, and private practices. Additionally, they are more likely to run their own private practices or work in higher-level psychiatric research and academic settings. Psychiatric nurse practitioners also play a significant role in patient education, helping individuals and families understand mental health conditions and the importance of mental wellness. They are vital in addressing the growing need for accessible and effective mental health services.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners have a diverse range of responsibilities and daily tasks that center around providing comprehensive mental health care. Their key responsibilities include:


Assessment and Diagnosis

You’ll often start by catching up with your therapist about how your week went. This isn’t just small talk; it helps set the stage for what you’ll focus on during the session. It’s like doing a quick inventory to see what needs attention.


Treatment Planning

Based on their assessments, psychiatric nurse practitioners develop individualized treatment plans which may include a combination of psychotherapy, medication management, and lifestyle recommendations.


Medication Management

They are qualified to prescribe and manage psychiatric medications, monitoring their effectiveness and making adjustments as necessary.



Many psychiatric nurse practitioners provide psychotherapy, offering therapeutic interventions to help patients cope with mental health issues.


Patient Education

A crucial aspect of their role involves informing patients and their families about mental health issues. By providing knowledge on their conditions and treatment options, they empower patients to understand and manage their health effectively.


Collaboration with Healthcare Teams

Psychiatric nurse practitioners often work as part of a broader healthcare team, collaborating with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other healthcare professionals to provide holistic care.


Follow-up and Continuity of Care

They conduct regular follow-ups with patients to monitor progress and make necessary adjustments to treatment plans.


Crisis Intervention

In situations where patients are in crisis, psychiatric nurse practitioners provide immediate care and intervention.

The psychiatric nurse practitioner role involves not only managing mental health conditions but also promoting overall mental wellness and patient advocacy in various healthcare settings.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners vs. Psychiatrists: Clarifying the Differences

“Seeing a patient smile… is a reminder that, while many things can be wrong, and recovery is a lifelong journey, small things like a momentary smile symbolize ongoing hope.”

-Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Tamar Rodney, PHD, MSN, RN, PMHNP-BC, CNE, in an interview with DailyNurse

Psychiatric nurse practitioners differ from psychiatrists in their educational requirements, their roles, and what they offer patients.


Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

They achieve their qualifications through a nursing pathway, obtaining a Doctoral or Master’s or degree in nursing with a specialization in psychiatric mental health. This nursing-focused education emphasizes a holistic approach to patient care.


Psychiatrists hold either an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree. Their educational path is medical school, and then a residency in psychiatry. Their medical training provides a strong foundation in general medicine and neurology, in addition to mental health.


Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Their primary job is to diagnose mental health conditions, offer therapy, manage treatment plans, and prescribe medications. They often focus on a patient-centered approach, considering both psychological and lifestyle factors affecting mental health.


As medical doctors who specialize mental health, psychiatrists diagnose and treat psychiatric illnesses, prescribe medications, and provide psychotherapy. They are also trained to perform physical examinations and integrate medical and neurological factors into their psychiatric assessments and treatments.

What They Offer Patients

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

They offer a complete approach to mental health care, often spending more time in patient counseling and education. They are well-equipped to manage ongoing mental health conditions and provide uninterrupted care.


Psychiatrists can offer a more medically-oriented approach to mental health, capable of addressing complex psychiatric conditions that may require specialized medical interventions or a combination of medical and psychological treatments.

Why Trust a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with Your Mental Health?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners undergo a rigorous training and certification process that requires both classroom study and hands-on training in psychiatric care. After obtaining their registered nursing license, aspiring PMHNPs must complete a graduate-level program in psychiatric-mental health. This program includes extensive coursework in psychiatric theory, mental health diagnosis, treatment modalities, and pharmacology.

In addition to their academic training, psychiatric NPs are required to accumulate a significant number of clinical hours in psychiatric settings. These real world experiences are vital for developing practical skills in mental health assessment, intervention, and patient management.

Upon completing their graduate program, psychiatric NPs must pass a comprehensive certification exam. This exam, administered by a recognized professional body like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), assesses their knowledge and skills in psychiatric-mental health nursing.

Maintaining certification requires continuing education and periodic re-certification, ensuring that psychiatric nurse practitioners stay current with the latest practices and developments in mental health care.

This ongoing commitment to education and professional development underscores the thoroughness of their training and their dedication to providing high-quality psychiatric care.

NPs Come Out on Top: What the Research Says

There are several studies that highlight the effectiveness and satisfaction rates of patients treated by nurse practitioners, including those who specialize in psychiatry and mental health.

A study conducted in 2021 found that patients report favorable experiences working with nurse practitioners. According to the Kippenbrock et al study, patients had greater satisfaction with care provided by NPs when compared with their MD colleagues. A systematic review by Stanik-Hutt et al evaluated 19 years of published literature on the quality, safety, and effectiveness of care by Masters-prepared NPs and found that patient outcomes from NPs, working independently or with MD collaboration, were similar to those working with MDs alone.

An analysis of responses from the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, found that NPs were rated much higher than their MD colleagues in patient satisfaction. This survey included a large sample of 53,885 patients.

A survey reported by “Clinical Advisor,” conducted by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS), examined patient satisfaction rates with Nurse Practitioners (NPs). This survey revealed that NPs achieved a near-perfect patient satisfaction score, averaging 9.8 out of 10. Additionally, it highlighted the superior listening skills of NPs compared to MDs: 80 percent of patients treated by NPs reported that their nurse practitioner consistently listened attentively, while this was the case for only 50 percent of patients treated by physicians.

Finding the Right Mental Health Care Provider

Choosing the right mental health care provider is crucial for effective treatment and comfort during the process. Whether considering a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a psychiatrist, or another mental health professional, here are some tips to guide your decision:

Identify Your Needs

Understand what you need help with, be it managing medications, therapy, or a specific mental health condition. This will help you decide between providers like psychiatric nurse practitioners, who are skilled in medication management, and psychiatrists, who can handle more complex medical issues.

Check Credentials and Experience

Verify the provider’s qualifications, certifications, and areas of specialization. For instance, a psychiatric nurse practitioner should have the appropriate nursing credentials and experience in mental health care.

Consider Their Approach and Philosophy

Different professionals have different approaches to treatment. Some may focus more on medication, while others emphasize therapy. Choose a provider whose methods of practice align with your needs.

Ask About Treatment Methods

Inquire about the types of therapies and treatments they offer. Ensure they use evidence-based practices and have experience with your specific issues.

Assess Compatibility

The therapeutic relationship is key to successful mental health treatment. During first consultations, pay attention to whether you feel comfortable and understood by the provider.

Inquire About Accessibility

Consider the provider’s availability, office hours, emergency contact protocols, and the ease of scheduling appointments.

Insurance and Costs

Ensure the provider accepts your insurance or discuss the fee structure if you’re paying out-of- pocket. It’s important to know the cost and other financial factors of your care upfront.

Read Reviews or Get Referrals

Read reviews or ask for referrals from trusted people and places. Personal experiences can give insights into the provider’s approach and effectiveness.

Ask Questions

Don’t hesitate to ask questions during your initial consultation. Some important ones include:

  • What experience do you have treating patients with similar issues as mine?
  • Can you describe your treatment philosophy?
  • How do you typically work with patients?
  • How do you measure treatment success?
  • How do you handle emergencies or crises?

Who is Right for You?

Remember, finding the right mental health care provider is a personal journey, and it’s okay to change providers if your initial choice doesn’t meet your expectations or comfort level. Your comfort and trust in your provider are paramount in your mental health journey.

As we navigate the complexities of mental health care, it’s heartening to know that there is a diverse array of skilled and compassionate practitioners ready to help us on our journey.

Whether it’s the empathetic guidance of a psychiatric nurse practitioner, the medical expertise of a psychiatrist, or the supportive therapies offered by other mental health professionals such as therapists and counselors, each plays a unique and vital role in the realm of mental wellness.

The right mental health care provider can offer not just treatment, but also understanding, a listening ear, and a pathway to better mental health.

  • Giles, C. (2019, March 6). Nurse Practitioner, Agency Nurse Among Hardest Healthcare Roles to Fill. NOW Healthcare Recruiting.
  • DailyNurse. (2022, May 20). What It’s Like to Be a Psychiatric NP: A Talk With Tamar Rodney, PMHNP-BC – Daily Nurse.
  • Kippenbrock, T., Emory, J., Lee, P., Odell, E., Buron, B., & Morrison, B. (2019). A national survey of nurse practitioners’ patient satisfaction outcomes. Nursing Outlook67(6), 707–712.
  • The Role of a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP).
  • Robinson, S. (2021, February 3). Partnering With Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners. Psychiatric Times.
  • Robinson, S. (2021, February 3). Partnering With Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners. Psychiatric Times.
  • What Is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner? (n.d.). Western Governors University.

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