While the demand for mental health services is on the rise, there is a shortage of psychiatrists in America that grows worse each year. To fill the void, more individuals are earning psychiatric nurse practitioner (NP) or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degrees.

In many instances, psychiatric NPs can provide care equal to that of psychiatrists for a fraction of the cost to patients. As a result, psychiatric NPs make mental health care accessible to many patients. How does a person become a psychiatric NP, how much do they make and what treatments do they provide?

What Is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Before choosing to study to be a psychiatric NP, it is wise to learn what a psychiatric nurse practitioner does. According to Vanderbilt University, a psychiatric NP provides both psychopharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic services. That is, they can identify and treat mental health conditions by prescribing medications and providing therapy.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners work in almost every mental health care setting. Psychiatric NPs work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Community mental health centers
  • Private practices
  • Correctional facilities
  • State psychiatric facilities
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Substance abuse treatment centers, like The Recovery Village

In some states, psychiatric NPs must work under the supervision of a doctor. Other states allow psychiatric NPs to work with some independence. Studies have shown that allowing nurse practitioners to work independently has improved the quality of health care while also lowering overall health care costs, which is especially true for underserved communities. In states that allow psychiatric NPs to work without supervision, more people have access to mental health care.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

It takes advanced training and many years of study to become a psychiatric NP, but the job outlook is great. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for nurse practitioners will grow by 30 percent in the years leading up to 2026. This rate is faster than the growth rate of most jobs in the medical field.

The time it takes to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner depends on how much education a person starts with. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced-practice registered nurses. They must earn a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree. They must also fulfill clinical requirements and receive certifications and licenses.

Educational Requirements

On average, the education requirements for psychiatric nurse practitioners take eight years to complete. To become a psychiatric NP a nurse will need the following:

  • Bachelor of Science or associate’s degree in nursing
  • Registered nurse license
  • State board certification
  • Master’s degree or doctorate in nursing
  • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner board certification
  • Any additional advanced certifications

A psychiatric nurse practitioner will usually start by studying to be a registered nurse (RN). Aspiring psychiatric NPs graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. The training and classes included in the BSN degree meet the prerequisites for earning an RN license. Another way to meet the requirement is to complete a two-year associate’s degree in nursing.

After the nursing degree, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN)  to earn their RN license. They must also obtain all local state board licenses required for employment. Nurses can then apply for a graduate degree in psychiatric nursing. However, many people complete one or two years of clinical experience in mental health care first. Mental health care experience is recommended or required by psychiatric NP programs.

A graduate degree in psychiatric nursing can be a master’s or doctorate. Master’s programs usually take two years while doctorate programs take an additional year. Once a nurse has finished their advanced degree in psychiatric nursing, they have to become board certified.


It is essential for a psychiatric NP to gain experience in a mental health care setting. All graduate programs in nursing include supervised clinical hours in psychology to meet the psychiatric nurse practitioner training requirements. For example, the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board certification exam requires 500 supervised clinic hours before testing.

Certifications Required

Nurse practitioner certifications show that the NP is knowledgeable. There are certifications available in many different disciplines. The main psychiatric nurse practitioner certification is the ANCC Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board certification (PMHNP-BC). The PMHNP-BC allows psychiatric NPs to practice for five years. After five years, the psychiatric NP must be recertified.

After passing the PMHNP-BC, some psychiatric NPs specialize to treat specific groups of patients. Specialization can require additional certifications. For example, to be a pediatric psychiatric nurse practitioner, an NP will need to get the Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist (PMHS) certification.

Average Salary

Currently, the average salary for a psychiatric nurse practitioner is $102,000. However, a psychiatric NP’s salary will vary based on experience, location and setting. Psychiatric nurse practitioner salaries can range from $81,000 to $137,000, usually.

Treatments a Psychiatric NP Can Provide

A psychiatric NP can provide many of the same psychiatric treatments that a psychiatrist can.

These include:

  • Evaluate and diagnose
  • Educate
  • Prescribe medication
  • Make referrals
  • Offer preventative care
  • Conduct therapy

Some states limit what psychiatric NPs can do without doctor supervision.

Evaluation and Diagnosis

Psychiatric nurse practitioners see patients, perform physicals, order and interpret lab work and determine diagnoses. They also refer patients to medical doctors and psychiatrists as needed. Psychiatric NPs are also involved in a patient’s management of chronic illnesses.

Prescribe Medication

In the United States, psychiatric NPs can prescribe medications. Psychopharmaceuticals, the drugs used to treat mental health conditions, require close monitoring. Psychiatric NPs can manage medications prescribed for both acute and chronic illness.


Psychiatric nurse practitioners do conduct psychotherapy, also called individual therapy or talk therapy. Psychiatric NPs use psychotherapy to help treat issues such as:

Finding a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

If you are considering becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner and need more information on careers as a psychiatric NP, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association is a great place to start. Another informative website is RegisteredNurses.org.

Psychiatric NPs work in many different healthcare settings. To find a psychiatric nurse practitioner, speak to your primary care physician or other health care provider. Another way to locate a psychiatric nurse practitioner near you is to contact your health insurance company.

If you or someone you know is in need of addiction treatment, and are unsure whether treatment can be provided by a psychiatric nurse practitioner, The Recovery Village can help. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn about the different treatments available.