Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

psychiatric-nurse-practitionerA psychiatric nurse practitioner (PNP) is a nurse who can act as a primary mental health care provider and who fills many–but not all–of the functions of a doctor. PNPs have strong medical backgrounds and experience in psychiatric settings.

Training and Requirements

At minimum, a psychiatric nurse practitioner must have a bachelor’s degree and become a registered nurse. They must then obtain a master’s or doctoral degree. PNPs must take board examinations in psychiatric nursing to become licensed, and typically must complete ongoing continuing education requirements established by their state’s board. There is an ongoing nursing shortage that extends to PNPs.

PNPs are governed by many of the same rules as psychiatrists. They must, for example, adhere to strict confidentiality standards and correctly diagnose illnesses prior to prescribing medication.

Role in Psychiatric Care

PNPs practice in a variety of settings, but are most commonly found in hospitals, nursing homes, and public health departments. They have significantly more autonomy in decision-making than either registered nurses or licensed practical nurses and can dispense medication to psychiatric patients. Some work in nurse practitioner offices or fill in for psychiatrists. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can and do provide psychotherapy, in addition to managing the medical side of psychiatric illnesses. They may also offer advice and support to people and their families just as a psychiatrist or other medical doctor might.

PNP care is typically less expensive than the care of a psychiatrist, and patients may have to wait shorter periods of time to obtain an appointment with PNPs.


  1. About psychiatric-mental health nurses. (n.d.). American Psychiatric Nurses Association. Retrieved from
  2. Psychiatric nurse practitioner. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. What is an NP? (n.d.). American College of Nurse Practitioners. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 07-17-2017

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kayla

    December 7th, 2015 at 7:21 PM

    I’m highly suicidal and everyday I’m surprised when I don’t do it. I’m 15. I self-harm. I don’t have a therapist or anything but if i want to get help, im not sure where to go. Do i go to the ER?

  • The Team

    December 7th, 2015 at 7:55 PM

    Thank you for your comment, Kayla. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at

    Warm regards,
    The Team

  • Vikki B

    July 7th, 2016 at 11:03 AM

    I am searching for a counselor/therapist at a facility/clinic that also has a Psychiatric Nurse practioner & psychiatrist for help for my anxiety disorder /panic attacks I am in Dupage County, Illinois

  • Kathi

    September 18th, 2016 at 8:31 PM

    I have severe anxiety and depression. I am looking for someone who can help me with this and who takes my health insurance. I had a psych NP when I was pregnant w/my son, but we no longer live anywhere near her office.
    I know I need some help in coping & learning how to live…I can’t go on like this.
    Have been told by dr he thinks EMDR would be good for me as well.

  • The Team

    September 19th, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    Hi Kathi,
    Thank you so much for your inquiry and interest in working with a therapist. You can search for a mental health professional near you on the Directory, here:

    If you click “Advanced Search,” you may specify that you’re looking for a therapist to help with anxiety and depression.

    Please keep in mind that is an exclusive directory. If you have trouble finding a professional in your area, don’t be discouraged–it may mean you’ll have better luck doing a Google search or asking for a referral from a trusted health professional, such as your doctor.

    Wishing you the very best in your healing journey, Kathi! ♥

    Kind regards,
    The Team

  • George m

    October 2nd, 2016 at 11:57 PM

    He needs inpatient treatment care. Long t. he doesn’t want to take care. Of his self. sometimes he said he what to kill his self

  • DarcieD

    August 21st, 2020 at 6:45 PM

    This article should be removed. If you want to do an article on what a PMHNP does, perhaps it might be good to ask one? This is incomplete and incorrect information. And they’re not “cheaper” or more easy to get an appointment with, either. The cost of copay to the patient is the same, and the patient outcome is similar or better compared to that of a psychiatrist, but insurance pays the NP 15% less. I’m curious: you wrote that PMHNPs do some but “not all” of the functions of a psychiatrist – which functions are those? As a PMHNP I’d like to know!
    LPNs and RNs – and aides, in nursing homes, and patients, in their own homes, “dispense medications”. Anyone can do that. APRNS – which is the category under which all NPs fall, and means “Advanced Practice Registered Nurses” *prescribe* medications, in most states independently, and in states that don’t want to have any NPs in their states, under a “collaborative” agreement with a physician who charges the APRN to talk on the phone or in person every month or so. There are more odd things about this article – “At minimum, a psychiatric nurse practitioner must have a bachelor’s degree and become a registered nurse. “……….No, that isn’t how things work. No one can get board certified with a BSN. That is not a “minimum” requirement to take the boards – it is a prerequisite to being accepted to grad school in a NP program.

    It’d be best maybe to start over with this topic?

  • LaurenGT

    August 22nd, 2020 at 11:20 AM

    Thanks for your feedback! I’ve passed it along to our content team.

  • Joan

    April 18th, 2021 at 10:36 AM

    Maybe you should consider hiring professional content writers with experience using peer-reviewed and evidence-based ideas as their source of information. This article has some misleading information. Helathcare is a sensitive field and whatever you write should be proven facts.

  • Meagan

    June 27th, 2021 at 4:29 PM

    Also, NP’s should not be providing psychotherapy, as they are not trained to do so.

  • Joe

    August 11th, 2021 at 9:33 AM

    Hi Meagan
    I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner and have been trained in most modalities of therapy. I provider psychotherapy and also prescribe medications. Meagan, can you please provide your source that allowed your misinformation. If you need assistance properly citing your source I have also been “trained” to do so.

  • Dee

    February 21st, 2023 at 9:58 PM

    Based on the responses from the PMHNPs It sounds as though an 18 month to 2 year PMHNP program with 550 hours of clinical practice somehow manages to teach all of the skills and expertise a psychiatrist takes 8 years to learn (4 years med school and 4 years residency), while at the same time teaching all of the skills of a therapist which is generally a 2 1/2 – 3 year program including a 600 hour internship plus 2 years of supervised practice to obtain full licensure. That’s a bloody miracle if you ask me!
    I hear a level of arrogance from the PMHNP responders that makes me wonder if they know what they DON’T know. I think many PMHNPs will hang their shingle and work like a therapist who also prescribes psychotropics. Doing that in a vacuum means they never WILL know what they don’t know (which is a heck of a lot!!). I don’t think that career path was the plan of these programs, but I guess only time will tell what these people decide to put themselves out as. I can assure them of this: they aren’t as qualified as these people seem to claim. They may have just enough knowledge to be competent in one field, and just enough to be dangerous in the other. I’m not trying to tear anyone down, but I think it’s critically important to know your limits of competency and I hear not one ounce of humility in these 2 who replied here. It’s alarming, frankly.

  • Wendy

    May 24th, 2023 at 2:59 PM

    Hi! I am a client/patient and I saw a PMHNP for a year. I have Bipolar 1, PTSD. I had a huge mental and emotional crash that took me that whole year to recover. At the beginning, I was prescribed Lithium and Latuda. I needed to connect with a psychotherapist but the waiting list was two months long. So my PMHNP told me that her main job was to diagnose and prescribe meds when appropriate, but that she will provide me with psychotherapy until I can get my therapist. She said that it is not her forte, but she has been trained in psychotherapy- just not nearly as much as a psychotherapist. She said that she would be willing to talk about my issues and to put some tools in place to keep me safe if I was okay with this. If not, she would just see me for med review only. I agreed to see her temporarily until I got my therapist. My PMHNP helped me immensely and I was so grateful that she was willing to take the time to try to help me with just the little training she had. Having little training is not entirely worthless!! She walked me through a safety plan, helped me discover the positive side of my personality and what my strengths were, she helped me to find ways I could take care of myself when I felt upset and out of control and we called those my tools and I put them in my toolbox. She set clear boundaries for me and let me know that she wasn’t my friend, she was a my med provider. I couldn’t call her or come by to see her just whenever I wanted. She gave me the tools to be able to function and take care of myself until I got my true therapist. When I got my therapist, then she told me that I will talk to HER now about my painful issues and all the trauma and mental health topics. And that she will only handle my psych meds and that is what we would discuss. HA! Too late! I only wanted to talk with my PMHNP! I didn’t want to talk to some therapist I didn’t even know! Well, that was difficult for awhile, but I finally did choose to switch over. I thought, you know, she did a great thing for me- I don’t want her to regret it. I don’t want to punish her for it. However! The one thing that she wasn’t ready for was, TRANSFERENCE!!! And that’s why she had to terminate me. I had my therapist now anyway and I got a new PMHNP under the same roof as my therapist. That was two years ago and now I am stable and doing great, great, great! My therapist that I got quit, but my new one is AWESOME!!! My PMHNPs don’t last too long. High turnover. Thanks for reading this! I hope it brings some good to someone out there! “Be a help, not a hindrance.”😊

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