The Different Working Environments for Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

The Different Working Environments for Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

Are you looking for a rewarding career? A career where you can make a genuine difference in people’s lives, changing them for the better? A mental health nursing career could be the right professional path for you. Mental health nursing involves many mental health care duties and offers a lot of room for growth; with various avenues to specialize in, there’s huge flexibility in terms of roles and salary.

However, a mental health nursing career is demanding. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging paths you can choose in nursing. Becoming a mental health nurse is a big commitment, as it takes years of hard work, learning, and experience before you are fully qualified to start working. The role demands strength of character and personality traits such as empathy, communication, and organization. It’s also a job that exposes you to high stress and trauma regularly.

But if you’re the type of person who can overcome and thrive in these situations, you could become a wonderful mental health nurse. The profession contains multiple facets under the larger umbrella of mental health nursing, and there are several paths you could follow. Each of those paths comes with distinct responsibilities and requirements to follow confidently and correctly. But first, let’s look at what a mental health nurse actually is. Let’s dive in!

What is a mental health nurse practitioner?

A mental health nurse focuses entirely on the mental health of patients. Mental health is a fairly vague topic, but in short, mental health nurses look at understanding psychiatric issues, developing relevant treatment plans, and issuing medication accordingly. While exact duties may differ, all mental health nurses seek to improve the well-being of patients suffering from mental health issues.

According to the AANP, the definition of mental health nursing is to assess and treat mental health needs, prescribe medication, and conduct therapy sessions for those suffering from mental health disorders. Of all nursing professions, mental health nurses are among the lowest in terms of numbers. According to Zippia, as few as 26,693 mental health nurses are employed in the USA. It’s also interesting to note that 81.3% of mental health nurses are women, while only 16.7% are men.

Mental health nurses often work alongside other health professionals to determine the most suitable therapy and gain a deeper understanding of issues, problems, and causes to treat patients as thoroughly and effectively as possible.

Now that we know what a mental health practitioner is, what are the typical responsibilities involved?

Typical responsibilities of a mental health practitioner

While there are countless responsibilities involved with working as a mental health nurse practitioner, your exact duties will depend on the specific role in which you serve. However, no matter your role, you will be responsible for treating patients, spreading mental health awareness, promoting health and wellness, and generally supporting anyone affected by mental health issues. Some more specific responsibilities include:

  • Managing other mental health nurses in their duties
  • Solving problems in high-stress situations
  • Crisis intervention
  • Counseling
  • Monitoring patients
  • Providing benefits support
  • Assisting with application processes
  • Developing psycho-educational programs

You may have other duties depending on where you work, as every nursing workplace is different. Regardless of where you work, there are some common characteristics and personality traits that almost all nurses embody.

The common personality traits of a mental health practitioner

It’s an incredibly tough journey to become a mental health practitioner, so this alone puts many people off. Mental health nursing is only for strong-minded, determined, and committed individuals. Additionally, there are several role-specific skills and soft skills.

Most nursing roles involve a few different aspects, including social work, patient work, mental health work, family/group therapy, rehabilitation, and in-home care, all of which require high levels of confidence in the following skills:

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Organization
  • Critical thinking
  • Staying calm in high-stress scenarios
  • Problem-solving

As a nurse, you will be exposed to a wide range of issues and high-stress scenarios, and the soft skills listed above are essential to working through those scenarios effectively. If you want to become a mental health nurse, working and developing some of these skills should be one of your first steps.

Where does a psychiatric nurse practitioner work?

A psychiatric nurse can work in various places, and where you work will largely determine what you do. Usually, nurses decide between working with children, teens, adults, or families and groups. Let’s explore some of the most common places of work for mental health nurses.

Private practice

As a private practice mental health practitioner, you can set up your own business where you can offer independent mental health services, or you may decide to work for an existing one. One of the most significant benefits of working as a private practitioner is setting your own schedule and enjoying the flexibility not typically associated with traditional nursing roles. That said, running your own practice certainly comes with added responsibilities as everything comes down to you! 

Behavioral health clinics

Behavioral health clinics are one of the most common places of work for mental health nurses. These facilities typically involve working in a team to help those with cognitive or behavioral issues. Typically, behavioral clinics work with adolescents to curb problematic behavior. 

Vocational rehab

A nurse working in vocational rehabilitation helps disabled people, or those living with severe mental health issues, to improve their overall wellness, receive care, and even gain employment. Vocational rehab also focuses on helping those with substance abuse or psychological disorders.


A clinician will conduct diagnoses, issue treatments, and deliver direct care to mental health patients. They may also conduct research, data analysis, medical care, therapy, and medical history assessments.

Can you work remotely as a mental health practitioner?

To an extent, mental health practitioners can work remotely, but that will largely depend on your specific role. For example, you can deliver therapy sessions online and prepare reports from home.

However, while working remotely as a mental health practitioner is possible, it can be difficult to perform well in a role that is already demanding and stressful by nature, but with the added loneliness that comes with working remotely.

How do you become a mental health practitioner?

As you’d expect, becoming a mental health nurse practitioner is long and challenging. A colossal commitment must be made to obtain the qualifications and experience required to work as a practitioner. In simple terms, here are the steps you must follow to become a mental health nurse:

Obtain your degree

Firstly, you must obtain a degree, such as a PMC-Psych Mental Health NP from an accredited university. Spring Arbor University offers an online post-master’s certificate, which equips students with essential clinical expertise, and opens up a path to becoming a mental health nurse.

Get your certified psychology NP

Next, you’ll need to undergo a certified psychology NP. This program is designed to integrate new nurses into the world of mental health. You should register for an MPPNP (CCNE or ACBN).

Complete clinical hours

After gaining your certified psychology NP, you must complete your clinical hours. This involves 540 hours of supervised work as a nurse. Typically, you’ll work alongside a certified physician, counselor, or practitioner.

Complete the test (PMH-BC)

Finally, you’ll need to take (and pass) the PMH-BC test. This test will assess your knowledge and skills on psychology, ethical/legal principles, scientific foundations, and advanced practice skills.

Undoubtedly, the road to becoming a mental health practitioner is long and challenging, so you must be clear on whether it’s the right path for you. Additionally, it’s a career where ongoing learning is required, and you’ll need to gain educational credits to maintain your qualifications. If you’re interested in taking the first step to become a mental health nurse practitioner, you should learn more about the PMC-psych mental health NP.

Is becoming a mental health practitioner a good career?

Becoming a mental health nurse can be an incredible career in which you can make a true difference in the lives of those who need it most. But while incredibly rewarding, it’s an equally challenging career path, demanding continuous learning and the ability to function and stay calm in high-stress situations. If you love working with people, are empathetic and organized, and want a meaningful career, mental health nursing could be for you.