What to know about psychiatric nurses

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Psychiatric nurses are specially trained nurses who care for the psychological and physical well-being of people with mental health conditions or behavioral problems.

In this article, we explore what psychiatric nurses do, their education and training, how they differ from other mental healthcare workers, and the conditions that they treat.

We also explain how and when to seek mental health help from a psychiatric nurse or other mental health professional.

Psychiatric mental health nurses (PMHNs) work to improve or support the mental and physical well-being of people with mental health or behavioral conditions.

They may also support the people close to a person with these conditions, such as family members or romantic partners.

According to the American Psychiatric Nurse Association, PMHNs may work with individuals, groups, families, and communities.

They assess mental health needs and develop a nursing plan of care. Then they implement the plan and evaluate its effectiveness over time.

Jobs they do

The jobs that a PMHN does will depend on their clients’ needs, the healthcare setting, and their own specific training.

A PMHN’s job may include:

  • assessing dysfunction and observing and evaluating progress
  • helping people regain or improve coping abilities
  • administering psychotropic medications and helping monitor and manage their side effects
  • promoting factors and environments that help prevent further disability
  • promoting general health
  • assisting with self-care activities
  • administering and monitoring psychobiological treatment regimens
  • providing health education, such as psychoeducation
  • assisting with crisis intervention or management
  • offering basic counseling, such as general guidance or other types of interpersonal support
  • carrying out the role of case manager to help coordinate and support care with other healthcare professionals
  • participating with clients in recreational activities
  • conducting group or family therapy sessions
  • helping educate families and other interpersonal support members about mental health issues and lifestyle factors that may help improve or worsen someone’s condition

Where they work

PMHNs work in a variety of healthcare settings alongside other healthcare professionals.

Common work settings for a PMHN include:

  • inpatient and outpatient general and psychiatric hospitals
  • doctors’ offices
  • assisted living facilities
  • long-term care centers
  • rehabilitation centers
  • private homes
  • correctional facilities
  • community mental health centers
  • local, state, and federal mental health agencies
  • private clinics
  • schools and colleges of nursing
  • behavioral care companies
  • military clinics or hospitals

Clients they work with

PMHNs can work with almost every segment of the population. They may also obtain specialty training to work with specific populations, such as:

A PMHN may also specially train to work in forensics or as a consultant or liaison.

What conditions can they treat?

PMHNs cannot specifically treat any condition.

Instead, PMHNs work with other healthcare professionals, such as social workers, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists, to develop and implement plans of care.

Healthcare professionals design these plans to help people with mental health or behavioral conditions improve their general well-being and functioning.

A PMHN can, therefore, be involved in the care of almost anyone who has a mental or behavioral health condition that is negatively impacting their life and requires monitoring and maintenance care.


Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who work in the mental healthcare sector.

To become a registered nurse, a person must obtain one of three degrees and pass the registered nurse (RN) licensing examination in their state after graduating.

The three degree options for becoming an RN are:

  • 2-year associate’s degree program in nursing
  • 3-year diploma program in nursing
  • 4-year university or college bachelor’s degree program in nursing

According to the American Psychological Association, a psychiatric nurse must also complete additional training in pharmacology, as well as the social and behavioral sciences.

After a person passes the RN licensing exam, they must also complete the following to become certified as a psychiatric nurse:

  • 2 years of practice as a full-time RN
  • a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical experience in psychiatric mental health nursing within 3 years of passing the exam
  • 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric mental health nursing within 3 years of passing the exam

A registered nurse can complete additional training, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

The salary of a PMHN depends on their level of experience and the amount of specialized training they have undergone.