Psychiatric Nurse

psychiatric nurse

Psychiatric nurses care for individuals with a diagnosis of mental illness or developmental disorders. They provide services to people with substance abuse and behavioral issues. Psychiatric nurses work with adults and children in a variety of healthcare settings. Psychiatric nurses are also known as mental health nurses.

Psychiatric nurses use the nursing process to assess, plan, implement care for people struggling with mental health issues. Psychiatric nurses often work in community settings such as mental health clinics. Many are employed by local, state and federal agencies. Psychiatric nurses work in acute care hospitals with psychiatric units as well as specialized mental health care facilities. They work in group homes for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

Psychiatric nurses provide a wide range of services depending upon the patient population and work setting. Psychiatric nurses work with patients suffering from anxiety disorders and depression. They are employed by outpatient and  inpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers. Some psychiatric nurses specialize in fields such as addictions or developmental disabilities.

Some psychiatric nurses help people who have behavioral issues. These include individuals with developmental disorders and children who have been exposed to abuse. Psychiatric nurses may specialize in working with perpetrators or victims of sexual abuse.

Psychiatric nurses work hard to educate the public about mental health issues. A stigma and many myths are still prevalent about people with mental health issues. psychiatric nurses serve as patient advocates on many levels.

Some psychiatric nurses specialize in care of people suffering with dementia. They monitor medications and offer compassionate support to caregivers.

Education Requirements

Beginning psychiatric nurses may be hired without specialized training as long as the nurse possesses a nursing degree The nurses usually need to be certified in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as well.

Licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and advanced practice nurses may all find employment within the field of psychiatric nursing.  Experienced  psychiatric  registered  nurses may opt to take an exam to be certified as Psychiatric Mental Health nurses (PMH-RN).

Certification is also available for advanced practice registered nurses who wish to specialize in psychiatric nursing. The certification  title of  an  advanced practice  registered nurse is known as the Psychiatric Mental Health- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (PMH-APRN). Nurse  practitioners offer primary care services to people suffering from mental health issues. They may conduct therapy sessions and prescribe medications. 

Job Description & Duties

All nurses develop therapeutic relationships with their patients. Psychiatric nurses use the therapeutic relationship as the basis of interaction and treatment for patients and clients. Nurses may offer counseling services to help clients cope with the stresses of daily life. Some psychiatric nurses take training in alternative and complementary therapies that aide in stress reduction. Example include aromatherapy, relaxation techniques, guided imagery, biofeedback, and more.

Psychiatric nurses may work as liaisons with schools health care, and employment agencies. Many psychiatric nurses serve as case managers. They coordinate services with other experts to   promote  community integration and support of people with diagnoses of mental illness.

Psychiatric nurses may administer medications. They may prefill medication boxes for mentally ill people.  Psychiatric nurses provide education regarding medications, disease process and community resources. They provide emotional support  and education to  patients and families coping with mental illness.

Psychiatric nurses are skilled finding creative approaches to enhance the health and well being of each client’s life. Their roles are diverse. A nurse may assist a client to find ways to pay for fuel, arrange for transportation to therapy, or assist family members to obtain respite services.

There is a large proportion of veterans returning from war with a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychiatric nurses have a critical role in helping them overcome their fears and return to a healthy lifestyle.

Psychiatric nurses are employed by home health agencies in order to ensure  safety and success of clients in the community.

Job Outlook and Salary

The occupational outlook for psychiatric nurses is  excellent. Psychiatric nurses employed by government agencies  often have  slightly lower salaries than nurses employed by hospitals. However, they often enjoy excellent benefits, increased autonomy and  desirable work settings. Starting salaries for new psychiatric nurses and those with less than five years of experience is $39,000 dollars annually. An experienced nurse with over twenty years of  psychiatric nursing experience may make up to $70,000 dollars per year.


For information about certification, continuing education opportunities, and employment for psychiatric nurses contact the following;

Written by

Patricia Bratianu RN PhD RH-AHG

Patricia has been a Registered Nurse for almost forty years in a wide variety of settings. As a Registered Nurse, she realized that conventional healthcare was not meeting [...]