April 24, 2024

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Essential skills and training to become an effective psychiatric nurse

As the United States encounters an unprecedented mental health crisis, more professionals are needed than ever to support and treat patients with cognitive issues and enhance their quality of life. One of these key roles is that of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, approximately 2,000 competent mental health professionals are needed annually to combat the nation’s growing mental health crisis. Becoming a PMHNP requires a comprehensive knowledge of human behavior and mental health issues like any other mental health professional. These skills allow psychiatric nurses to assist patients in managing symptoms associated with cognitive health and substance abuse disorders. Keep scrolling, as this article outlines specialized training and skills a PMHNP must possess to care for individuals with mental health issues effectively.

What does a psychiatric nurse practitioner do?

PMHNPs are registered nurses with specialized training that evaluate, address, and track mental health and behavioral conditions. Their exact duties and responsibilities depend on where they work, their training, and their patients’ needs. However, typical duties include:

  • assessing patient status
  • providing and coordinating care based on treatment plans
  • giving medication and evaluating responses
  • providing case management
  • practicing crisis intervention

As a PMHNP, you can also write prescriptions, conduct advanced assessments, diagnose conditions, and provide counseling. With comprehensive mental health assessments, PMHNPs can better determine the root causes of a patient’s distress and ensure they receive proper care in an emotionally safe environment. Depending on the patient’s condition, a PMHNP may ask for input from family members and friends to establish deteriorating mental health capacity and develop treatment options.

It is worth noting, however, that PMHNPs are different from psychiatrists. Although psychiatrists and PMHNP careers overlap in more ways than one, their roles are not entirely the same. Unlike psychiatrists, who are required to attend medical school, PMHNPs instead must obtain an advanced nursing degree. 

How long does it take to become a PMHNP?

As mentioned in this comprehensive psychiatric nurse practitioner vs psychiatrist guide, PMHNP graduates from leading academic institutions such as Spring Arbor University only need roughly six years to become licensed. Depending on location and state laws, PMHNPs must have an active RN license, complete two years of practice as a full-time RN, practice at least 2,000 hours in a clinical PMH nurse environment, and earn 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric mental health nursing within three years.

While working toward their degree, aspiring PMHNPs will take advanced classes related to psychiatric mental health studies, such as psychiatric mental health nursing, individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and psychopharmacology. This provides students with solid foundational concepts and principles of nursing care that empower them in evaluating patients, providing treatments, and administering medications properly. Once they’ve earned their degree, PMHNPs can acquire certification for licensing to practice mental healthcare.

Specialized training and certifications for PMHNPs

Besides licensing credentials, PMHNPs can also undergo specialized training to obtain specific certifications that demonstrate that they have met specific standards of practice in providing care for patients with mental health illnesses. These psychiatric nurse certifications are available through organizations such as the International Association for Human Caring and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Some certifications available for PMHNPs to effectively care for individuals with mental health disorders include the following.

Certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

Colloquially known as PMHNP-BC, earning this certification allows psychiatric nurses to provide comprehensive mental healthcare to individuals, families, and communities. This certification program requires students to take clinical hours in the specialty area of psychiatric mental health nursing of their choosing.

Certified clinical mental health nurse counselor

A certified clinical health nurse counselor (CCMHNC) is a psychiatric nursing professional who has met the highest standards of knowledge, ethical practice, and experience in mental health counseling. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers this certification and requires individuals to pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions covering the topics of treatment planning, assessment, diagnosis, professional ethics, legal issues, and psychotherapy techniques.

Certified child and adolescent psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

A certified child and adolescent psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP-BC) is a specialized mental health nurse practitioner who has obtained board certification in child and adolescent mental health. The ANCC awards this certification and demonstrates that an individual has met the highest practice standards in this specialty area.

An advanced degree in nursing with a psychiatric mental health nursing specialization and at least 500 hours of clinical experience working with children is required. Students must also pass the ANCC PMHNP-BC examination to become certified. Becoming PMHNP-BC certified can take several months, depending on how quickly students can attain the educational and clinical experience requirements.

While these qualifications are not required, earning certifications can validate specialized knowledge and demonstrate superior clinical competence. Moreover, it shows a nurse’s ability to fully invest in providing patients with the best care possible. In particular states and job markets, earning a specialized mental health nursing certification can give nurses a strategic advantage when seeking a position.

Essential skills to become an effective PMHNP

As public cognizance and acceptance of mental health disorders increase, the stigma associated with these struggles will continue to decrease, prompting more individuals to seek help. A mixture of well-developed soft and hard skills is the key to making an effective PMHNP. These specialized skills ensure individuals can implement a comprehensive and holistic treatment strategy.

Analytical skills

PMHNPs gather significant patient information through evaluations, tests, and conversations. This data is then interpreted and evaluated to determine the best action to improve the patient’s mental health. For PMHNPs to be effective, they must learn to analyze this information in an isolated manner, rather than trying to place the patient in many different scenarios at once. This means avoiding multitasking which avoids getting to the root of a problem.

Strong analytical and deductive skills empower PMHNPs to analyze the patient’s condition and existing treatments to identify issues and predict outcomes. PMHNPs with solid analytical skills can better communicate across disciplines to ensure everyone knows the patient’s status, needs, and responses to treatment. When PMHNPs can analyze effectively, they can make better decisions and work with others when tackling problems.

Moreover, it lets PMHNPs adapt their patient care plans and make changes or course corrections based on the situation and patient requirements. Strong analytical skills are fundamental in the treatment stage, where PMHNPs must identify potential risks and predict future challenges. When PMHNPs can predict further challenges, they can reduce medical errors and deliver treatment plans based on a patient’s medical history.

Communication skills

PMHNPs spend a significant part of their workdays talking with patients, psychiatrists, and other medical experts. So, it is no wonder the best PMHNPs are adept in numerous communication methods. Mental health patients often have differing behaviors that affect their communication and willingness to work with healthcare professionals.

Therefore, PMHNPs must learn various communication methods. These include paying attention to the patient’s body language and non-verbal cues. As a nurse, you must demonstrate proper, confident, and calm gestures to reaffirm the patient. This means maintaining eye contact when speaking or listening, keeping arms uncrossed, having a relaxed facial expression, and respecting patients’ personal space. 

Furthermore, nurses should master active listening to understand what patients are trying to communicate and navigate communication barriers. This means explaining complex medical information in easy-to-digest ways, repeating their main point or message, clarifying anything unclear, and reserving judgment. This is especially important considering data shows that nearly half of American adults and children living with mental health conditions go without treatment because of the associated stigma. Through effective communication, PMHNPs can empathize with the patient experience and build trust, which is essential in helping them open up more about their illness. 

Problem-solving skills

Creative problem-solving is essential for mental health nurses caring for individuals with cognitive issues. As stated above, every patient encounters different crises and issues. As such, PMHNPs must learn to adapt to specific issues and develop personalized treatment plans to deal with increasingly complex mental health issues. 

In these unpredictable circumstances, PMHNPs must be creative in developing solutions to handle daily tasks, identify patient issues, and choose the proper care interventions. Although PMHNPs rely on clinical expertise and experience in several situations, those with creative problem-solving skills are better equipped to treat their patients. This is because these professionals can view problems not as barriers but as opportunities to improve patients’ mental health and well-being. 

Once PMHNPs determine the proper interventions, they can use their creative problem-solving abilities to create a plan of action, decide how to move forward with the problem, and foster teamwork within their healthcare teams. This includes assessing the steps they must take to track their decision and examining the results of their solutions. By comparing their expected goals and outcomes with the actual results, PMHNPs can determine the factors contributing to the care plan’s success or failure and adjust accordingly. 

Working toward becoming an effective psychiatric nurse practitioner

As mental health becomes a pressing issue in the United States, acquiring specific skills and training is no longer optional for an effective psychiatric nurse practitioner. With sufficient expertise and skills in their tool belt, PMHNPs can work towards becoming effective professionals who can combat the ongoing mental health crisis.