A mental health nurse practitioner is a highly-trained health-care specialist who treats patients with psychiatric problems, addictions, and behavioral disorders. Relying on set diagnostic guidelines as well as professional experience, a nurse assesses the nature and severity of a patient's condition and determines the appropriate medical or psychological treatment option. A nurse practitioner might work at a psychiatric ward, mental heath outpatient clinic, drug rehabilitation center, or community health organization.
Nurse practitioners provide both counseling services and medical care for people who struggle with mental issues. They often specialize by working with a certain population of patients. For example, a mental health nurse practitioner might work at an assisted living facility to care for patients with developmental disabilities. Many professionals are employed by inpatient and outpatient centers for people who are diagnosed with mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. Finally, some nurses specialize in drug and alcohol addiction treatment, helping patients overcome their problems with a combination of medicine and psychotherapy.
When meeting with a new patient, a mental health nurse practitioner conducts a thorough evaluation of his or her mental condition. The nurse asks about symptoms, records blood pressure and vital signs, and gauges the patient's current mental state. The nurse usually consults with psychiatrists or physicians to make an accurate diagnosis and determine the best treatment options. Many mental health nurse practitioners are regionally qualified to prescribe and administer medications when necessary. In addition to treating patients, some nurses conduct independent research on mental illnesses and develop new standards and policies at their places of employment.
A master's degree in nursing is required to become a mental health nurse practitioner in most countries. During nursing school, a future practitioner has the opportunity to take courses in anatomy, physiology, psychology, and patient care. The last half of a master's program is usually spent in an internship at a general hospital to give a new nurse the chance to gain practical experience. After earning a degree, an individual can take a written licensing exam administered by a regional or national governing board to earn nurse practitioner credentials.
A mental health nurse practitioner who gains several years of experience and builds a strong professional reputation may be able to open his or her own private practice. A professional who decides to become an independent practitioner assumes many additional administrative responsibilities, such as paying bills, hiring staff, and advertising services. After spending many years in the profession, many nurse practitioners choose to pursue continuing education in order to earn doctoral degrees and become psychiatrists.