What Types of Nursing Degrees are in the Mental Health Field?

There are various types of nursing degrees in the mental health field. The most common degree is psychiatric or mental health nursing, but specialized majors are available in adolescent, adult and geriatric mental health nursing.

Psychiatric or Mental Health Nursing

Psychiatric or mental health nursing degrees are designed for registered nurses with existing clinical experience. Registered nurses need to have a specialized master’s degree in order to earn the title of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). One of the APRN specializations is Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (PMH-APRN). Psychiatric nurses will work with individuals, families and groups to assess and help manage their mental health needs. PMH-APRNs may work as researchers, providers and supervisors, according to American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

These programs teach registered nurses how to use nursing diagnosis models, develop a plan of care, implement the actions and processes and evaluate for effectiveness. These nurse-students learn how to diagnose, treat and manage psychiatric disorders using therapeutic skills, prescription medication and the administration of psychotherapy. Senior PMH-APRNs may contribute to policy development, practice evaluation, quality improvement and general health care reform. Some PMH-APRNs choose to pursue a doctoral degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), for the advanced clinical practice of psychiatric nursing.

Gerontology Mental Health Nursing

One clinical nurse specialization is gerontology mental health nursing. These degree programs focus on both health-promotion and health-restoration for older adults. Students learn case management skills, physiological models, psychosocial theories, psychotherapy concepts and research-based practices for older individuals. Students will also learn about family relationships, environmental influences, self-care techniques and the growth needs of older individuals.

The faculty of most degree programs helps students individualize their education by setting up work experiences in hospitals or clinical programs. Practicums provide unique opportunities for trying out new approaches, developing advanced skills and developing evidence-based treatment competencies. Credible degree programs should prepare students to take a national certification exam, such as through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), for advancing nursing credentials, such as the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or the Advanced Practice Nurse (APN).

Substance Abuse Treatment Nursing

A substance abuse treatment specialization is sometimes offered through university graduate-level certificate programs. They are designed for RNs with additional training in psychology or social work. These programs are designed for RNs who want to add to their knowledge of substance use treatment and supervision practices for nurses. They may be offered through behavioral health counseling departments or college of nursing divisions in universities. Students should already be working in health care settings with experience serving people with substance use disorders.

Related Resource: Educational Counseling

Courses focus on the core competencies needed to facilitate and maintain recovery from substance abuse. Students acquire knowledge of substance use behaviors, lifespan patterns, cognitive change techniques and recovery and relapse prevention. There are also classes on common comorbid conditions, individual risk management practices and motivational enhancement skills. Some programs help students gain the educational training hours needed to either obtain or maintain drug/alcohol counseling credentials.