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  • Writer's pictureKim WD, Psych NP

What is a Psych Nurse Practitioner?

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

“I have a referral to see a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP). What’s the difference between a Psych NP and a psychiatrist?”

According to the American Psychiatric Nurse Association (APNA), the roles of the Psych NP and the psychiatrist are the same or very similar in many ways. Although they follow different educational paths, the Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and the psychiatrist can both offer care for patients who suffer from emotional, mental health, psychiatric, and substance use issues.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. Psychiatrists go through training and education that is similar to that of your primary care doctor. Along the path to earning their medical degree they choose psychiatry as their specialty.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, on the other hand, choose psychiatry as their field from the beginning. Their education, training, and expertise is concentrated in the field of psychiatry and mental health.

Psych NPs work closely with their patients to diagnose mental health conditions, prepare care plans, provide psychotherapy, and prescribe psychotropic medications. They may prescribe medication as part of a treatment plan, and may also offer therapy – or refer you to another professional (Psychologist, Counselor, Therapist, Social Worker) who specializes in talk therapy. Although medications may be necessary treatment for some mental health challenges, medication alone is usually not as effective as talk therapy or talk therapy combined with medication management.

Your Board-Certified Psychiatric NP (PMHNP-BC) can provide the following services:

  • Create mental healthcare plans for acute or chronic mental health care conditions.

  • Perform psychiatric, mental health, and substance use assessments.

  • Prescribe medications for emotional, mental health, psychiatric, and substance use disorders.

  • Prescribe and offer treatments, such as medication therapy, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.

  • Consult with other healthcare professionals.

  • Work alongside doctors, therapists, counselors, and nurses to provide patient care.

  • Participate and/or initiate research.

  • Educate clients, other healthcare professionals, and the community on mental health issues.

  • Contribute to policy development, quality improvement, practice evaluation, and healthcare reform.

"Half a century of research definitively demonstrates that nurse practitioners (NPs) provide high-quality primary, acute and specialty health care services across the life span and in diverse settings, including NP-owned practices." (American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 2020)

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