Advanced Practice Nursing

Do Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Offer Therapy?

Do Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Offer Therapy?
No perfect solutions exist to increase access to mental healthcare, but educating more psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) can help. Image from Pixabay
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella September 29, 2022

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) can create treatment plans, prescribe medication, and offer therapy for mood disorders.

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Many Americans lack access to mental healthcare, particularly those in marginalized populations. Consider adolescents with disabilities, for example. The Chicago Tribune reports that patients in this group frequently go untreated or misdiagnosed because their primary care providers focus on their disabilities, downplaying or ignoring their mental health disorders. They may never see a mental health professional who can treat their mental health conditions.

Similarly, rural Americans often lack access to needed care, even though they experience mental health conditions at similar rates to those who live in cities. A nationwide shortage of mental health professionals greatly exacerbates the situation.

No perfect solutions exist to increase access to mental healthcare, but educating more psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) can help. These advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) offer psychiatric care, usually through a combination of therapy and medication. PMHNPs complete graduate education (usually a master’s degree) to prepare them for this challenging practice field, in which they typically earn excellent salaries (often over six figures).

This article discusses whether psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners offer therapy? It also covers:

  • What is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Master of Science in Nursing (PMHNP MSN)?

Do psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners offer therapy?

PMHNPs may offer individual or group therapy. They can help patients struggling with addiction and substance abuse disorders, in addition to those with other mental health issues. The 2022 American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) workforce survey shows that 69 percent of psychiatric APRNs offer psychotherapy alongside medication. Fewer professionals offer therapy alone. Other mental health professionals, including counselors, social workers, psychologists, and therapists, can offer psychotherapy; prescribing medication sets PMHNPs apart.

According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), psychiatric NPs must be competent in at least two forms of psychotherapy to earn certification. Depending on their interests and backgrounds, they can pursue modalities like cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, interpersonal, and humanistic therapy. PMHNPs also complete continuing education throughout their careers, enabling them to learn more methodologies and improve on those they already understand.

What they do, where they work, and how much they’re paid

PMHNPs can supervise other professionals, order and read tests, and create and implement treatment plans. They’re skilled in medication management; they prescribe, monitor, and adjust medication. Psychiatric registered nurses (RN), in contrast, can develop a specialty credential but lack the advanced education required to perform advanced tasks.

PMNNPs’ daily duties depend on where they work. Mental health NPs in rural areas may be the only healthcare professional for miles, requiring them to serve the varied needs of a large population. Other professionals can be more specialized, working only with older adults or schoolchildren.

Settings where PMHNPs can work include their own private practice, schools, prisons, inpatient, and outpatient clinics. PMHNPs work in all 50 states—either as permanent residents or as travel nurses. According to Zippa, the rural South has the greatest need for PMHNPs, though professionals typically earn less in this region.

You can earn a great salary working as a PMHNP. Indeed reports the average base salary for these professionals at $140,000.

Required training, certification, and licensing

The first step to becoming a PMHNP is becoming a licensed RN. NPs can work for a while as an RN before pursuing advanced education—programs may even require multiple years of experience as a condition of admission.

To become an RN, you’ll complete an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or a hospital program. Though each pathway has benefits and drawbacks, they all lead to the same place. For instance, ADNs may need additional training and potentially a BSN to pursue higher education.

Once you decide to become a PMHNP, you’ll apply for a graduate degree program. The two choices are Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Those who already hold a master’s can complete a post graduate certificate.

DNP programs typically take longer to complete than MSN programs. The DNP can lead to both clinical and research careers.

After completing a degree program, you must earn a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC). Accredited graduate programs include the necessary coursework and clinical practice hours to qualify for the 3.5 hour licensure exam.

How a PMHNP MSN degree prepares students to offer therapy

MSN curricula cover general NP competencies and psychiatric specialization-specific courses. All Yale University NP students, for example, take core courses in subjects like health assessment, pathophysiology, pharmacology, evidence-based practice, and health promotion.

Psychiatric MSN programs include therapy coursework. At New York University, students complete multiple psychotherapy courses. One focuses on groups (including couples and families) and another on individuals. Programs also cover psychiatric pharmacology, often as a supplement to therapy. Students learn to make assessments and prescribe medication as part of treatment plans.

Focus-specific course titles at Yale include Advanced Pathophysiology, Transitions to Professional Practice, Family Psychotherapy Seminar, Promoting Health in the Community, and Clinical Psychopharmacology Across the Lifespan.



University and Program Name Learn More

What is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Master of Science in Nursing (PMHNP MSN)?

Psychiatric mental health is just one specialization you can pursue in an MSN program. Other common pathways include emergency medicine, adult-gerontology (acute and primary care), family medicine, midwifery, neonatal care, women’s health, and pediatrics. Each specialization comes with unique coursework requirements. Students also complete relevant clinical hours; The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) requires at least 500 per specialization.

How long does it take to earn a PMHNP MSN?

Full-time MSN programs typically take around two years to complete; part-time study can take three years or more. You can complete this degree either online or in person.

What are the PMHNP MSN program admissions criteria/prerequisites?

MSN programs typically follow traditional graduate school admissions requirements. That means you’ll likely submit your undergraduate transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation.

Admissions criteria differ by program and the applicant’s education level. At Vanderbilt University, for example, BSN applicants must prove their degree included a statistics course. The school also mandates applicants have at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Other programs require applicants to document time working as an RN.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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