Difference Between Family Nurse Practitioners and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

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PMHNPs work with and advocate for people with mental health issues.


Both family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) have the education and training necessary to assess mental health disorders.

PMHNPs, however, also have extensive education in psychiatry to provide in-depth assessments of patient mental health disorders. With close to 50 million Americans living with mental illness, the need for PMHNPs continues to grow dramatically.

Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program offers master’s in nursing options designed to prepare students for advanced careers as either FNPs or PMHNPs.

The Different Roles of FNPs and PMHNPs

FNPs, who have a graduate-level education and state certification, are crucial to primary medical care in the United States. Working independently or under a doctor’s supervision depending on the state, FNPs provide care to people of all ages, from children to the elderly. They may perform physical exams, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, order tests, and counsel their patients on healthy lifestyles and disease prevention, according to Nurse.org.

As part of their interaction with patients, they may also diagnose and treat mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. But while they may develop care plans and even prescribe medication, they do not specialize in the mental health field.

“The difference [between FNPs and PMHNPs] would lie in the breadth and depth of the assessment of the disorder. The PMHNP is prepared to provide psychotherapy. The FNP must collaborate with psychiatric professionals to assure psychotherapy is available if indicated,” KBN Connection notes.

Treating the psychiatric or mental aspects of a patient in a psychiatric inpatient or outpatient facility does not fall within the family nurse practitioner’s scope of practice. That is the job of a PMHNP.

Scope of Practice of a PMHNP

According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, PMHNPs are essentially able to practice in all areas of healthcare, including:

  • Family medicine
  • Internal medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Prisons
  • Home healthcare hospitals
  • Outpatient
  • Other subspecialties treating mental health disorders

Whether the PMHNP works in private practice, in primary care, or in an acute-care setting, the scope of practice may include psychotherapy, psycho-pharmacotherapy, case management, consultation services, education, and administration. In all U.S. states, PMHNPs have prescriptive authority.

According to the KBN article, “the assessment, diagnosing, and treatment of persons with psychiatric and mental health disorders” is of particular importance in the work of a PMHNP. This specific role may include:

  • Providing a holistic assessment of the patient and family history
  • Initiating and interpreting diagnostic tests pertinent to the patient
  • Developing a psychiatric diagnosis based on the comprehensive assessment, interview, and findings of tests
  • Developing an evidence-based plan of care
  • Determination of the level of care required (hospitalization, intensive or outpatient, or outpatient)
  • Determining the type of psychotherapy required (individual or group)
  • Determining pharmacotherapy

PMHNPs as Mental Health Advocates

PMHNPs also advocate for people with mental health issues. Working in the specialty helps them develop a real understanding of the everyday challenges and experiences faced by people living with mental health disorders.

Although all nurses have the skills to care for patients with mental illnesses, a PMHNP “must be passionate, patient, flexible, and have great communication and listening skills,” nurse Portia Wofford, writes in an article on Nurse.org. “They should also have empathy and a high level of emotional intelligence, yet remain assertive. Often times, these nurses are their patients’ only advocates. Familiarity and continuity of care is also a priority for those suffering from mental illness.”

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Curriculum

The Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration in Ohio University’s online MSN program aims to provide RNs with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide care to those who are struggling with mental illnesses and addictions.

PMHNP students can benefit from three on-campus intensives that will help them build on previous advanced practice nursing knowledge. The first on-campus intensive is intended to set students up for success at the beginning of the program. The second is a focus on health appraisal for NPs, and the final culminates in a capstone experience.

The PMHNP specialty offers the opportunity to:

  • Gain specialized knowledge and skill for providing care to those who are struggling with mental illnesses and addictions
  • Understand how to provide mental health patient care for individuals, groups, and families
  • Develop skills for mental health assessment, psychotherapeutic treatment, and psychopharmacology
  • Prepare to work with vulnerable populations and promote mental health throughout the different stages of life

About the Ohio University Online Master of Science in Nursing Program

Ohio University’s online MSN program prepares registered nurses (RNs) and other Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduates for advanced careers as family nurse practitioners (FNPs) or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs), many of whom will go on to open their own practice.

Recommended Reading

Ohio University Blog, “What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?”
Ohio University Blog, “MSN vs FNP: Opportunities in Advanced Nursing Practice”
Ohio University Blog, “What Can I Do with a Master’s in Nursing?”


American Psychiatric Nurses Association, ” FAQ about Advanced Practice”
Nurse.org, “Family-Nurse Practitioner”
KBN Connection, “Scope Of Practice: The Similarities And Differences Of Family Nurse Practitioner And Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Practice”
Nurse.org, “Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Spreads Awareness Of The Mental Health Crisis”