What is a Psychiatric Nurse?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A psychiatric nurse is a nurse who specializes in providing psychiatric care. This type of nursing may be provided at a psychiatric facility, a psychiatric wing in a hospital, or at home, depending on the nature of the patient's needs. You may also hear psychiatric nursing referred to as mental health nursing. Pay scales for psychiatric nurses vary, depending on their level of experience and training, and where they are employed.

A psychiatric nurse helps tend to patients with mental disorders.
A psychiatric nurse helps tend to patients with mental disorders.

As a nurse, providing psychiatric care can be very complex. Psychiatric nurses must administer medications to their patients, keep an eye on the mental health of their charges, and be active participants in the patient's treatment plan. Especially in psychiatric facilities, psychiatric nurses are relied upon to monitor the mental health of patients, providing insight into which treatment techniques are working, and evaluations of the patient's progress in treatment. Nurse to patient ratios are often low, reflecting the fact that caring for the mentally ill can become very complex.

Psychiatric nurses often work in a psychiatric hospital.
Psychiatric nurses often work in a psychiatric hospital.

Like other nurses, a psychiatric nurse may also need to tend to physical patient needs, such as assistance with going to the bathroom, bathing, and dressing, or help navigating physical therapy programs. Some psychiatric nurses also receive counseling credentials and additional training on psychology so that they can lead group therapy sessions and offer other mental health care to their patients. In the case of a psychiatric nurse who provides care at home, the nurse may also need to submit patient evaluations to a supervising doctor in which the patient's progress is discussed.

Working with the mentally ill can be very physically and emotionally demanding, especially in the case of people who have been institutionalized for long-term treatment. Psychiatric nurses are usually qualified to look after patients of all ages, but some pursue additional certifications so that they can focus on patients of particular interest, such as juveniles with mental illness, or the elderly. The more certifications a psychiatric nurse has, the more employable he or she will be.

Someone who wants to become a psychiatric nurse usually studies psychiatric nursing in nursing school. In addition to covering basic nursing topics, the student will be introduced to topics specific to psychiatry and psychology, including overviews of common psychiatric conditions, the medications used to assist in treatment, and specific issues which may come up when treating the mentally ill. Psychiatric nurses can also join professional organizations to network with other psychiatry professionals and have access to continuing education training which will keep their skills current and sharp.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


One of my friends is studying to become a nurse at the moment, and she recently did a short stint at a psychiatric hospital in order to get some work experience there. She said psychiatric nurse work was both the most interesting and the most difficult she's done so far.

But she also said that if she was going to do it, she would do it at a private facility. The people and the nurses at public facilities are not treated very well (although, I'm sure it depends on the facility of course).

The aim seems to be to get the people in and out as fast as possible, rather than provide them with the best care. Unfortunately, it comes down to money. There are very few countries in the world which really put as much money as possible into the mental health system.


@indigomoth - Often nurses fill out all that stuff before they go to a new country. If your roommate is struggling to live in a new place and trying to get a license at the same time, it's no wonder it seems to be taking forever.

There are also services that will do all that for you I believe. There are quite a few places that are keen to get new nurses and they will try to make the transition as smooth as possible.

But, if a nurse is going to be working with psychiatric patients you can see why they need her to be absolutely squeaky clean.

These are people at their most vulnerable and it would be easy for an unscrupulous person to take advantage of them. In fact, this has happened in the past, where nurses have done terrible things to patients.

She just needs to fill everything out as carefully as possible and I'm sure it will be fine.


I have a roommate at the moment who is a qualified psychiatric nurse. She really loves the job, saying it's far more interesting than some other forms of nursing because there is more interaction with the people you are trying to help and the interactions themselves might be healing.

Unfortunately, she's from the UK and she hasn't managed to get the license she needs to practice here. There seem to be plenty of psychiatric nurse jobs around, she just isn't allowed to apply for them until she gets her license.

They make her fill out all kinds of forms and provide realms of proof that she's not a criminal and so forth.

I always thought nurses were welcomed where ever they go, because there are never enough of them to fill the jobs available, but in this case, she can't quite seem to get a chance yet.

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