Understanding the Behavioral Health Nurse Requirements & Education

Understanding the Behavioral Health Nurse Requirements & Education

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
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Working as a nurse requires a level of empathy and compassion that not a lot of other careers have, especially if you want to enter the field of behavioral health nursing. Working with individuals who are struggling with mental health disorders can be incredibly challenging yet rewarding. With Health Carousel Nursing & Allied Health, you can combine your passion for helping people with your need to travel. If you've been considering a career as a behavioral health travel nurse, we want to help you get there.

The Role of a Behavioral Health Nurse

Behavioral health nurses, also known as psychiatric-mental health nurses, work with individuals, families, groups, and communities to assess mental health needs and provide quality patient care. They assist patients with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and much more.

The role of a registered nurse working in this specialty encompasses:

  • Conducting psychiatric assessments
  • Developing individualized plans of care
  • Providing therapy and counseling to patients and their families
  • Administering medications and monitoring for side effects
  • Advocating for patients and connecting them to resources and support services
  • Promoting mental health through education and creating awareness

Basic Duties of a Behavioral Health Nurse

When working as a behavioral health travel nurse, your day-to-day will look different depending on where you're working and the patients you're working with. Some of the duties you might expect to do on a daily basis while working as a travel behavioral health nurse are:

  • Interviewing patients and collecting medical histories
  • Observing patients and documenting behavioral issues
  • Developing patient care plans based on assessments
  • Providing counseling and following up with patients via phone or in person
  • Monitoring patients for medication side effects and adherence
  • Recording progress notes and maintaining accurate medical records
  • Collaborating with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other professionals
  • Helping patients with activities of daily living and improving coping skills
  • Promoting patient rights and protecting patient confidentiality

Key Skills Necessary for Success

Being a nurse requires a plethora of skills to be successful, especially for health professionals who enter this specialty. To be a successful behavioral health nurse, some of the most important skills you need to possess are:

  • Strong communication skills to build rapport and trust with patients
  • Empathy, compassion, and emotional stability when working with sensitive issues
  • Critical thinking and assessment skills to identify patient needs and risks
  • Attention to detail for accurate record-keeping and care planning
  • Physical stamina to assist with ambulation and activities
  • Cultural competence when working with diverse patient populations
  • Problem-solving skills to handle crises and emergency situations
  • Teamwork and collaboration with other healthcare professionals

Educational Requirements for a Behavioral Health Nurse Career

As an aspiring behavioral health nurse, you'll need to go to nursing school first. While an associate degree in nursing (ADN) is adequate for many nursing specialties, to excel in the world of mental health professionals, pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is important.

A BSN degree is the minimum requirement to become an RN in most states. BSN programs include courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, and nursing skills. Students also complete supervised clinical rotations at healthcare facilities where they'll learn about a variety of specialties, not just mental health.

BSN programs typically take four years to complete when going to school full-time. Graduates from an accredited nursing program are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam for licensure, which is required to practice nursing in the United States.

Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)

After earning a nursing degree, candidates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCLEX-RN tests nursing competency and knowledge through multiple-choice and alternate-format questions. The exam covers topics like psychiatric nursing, pharmacology, patient safety, and more.

Requirements vary by state, but candidates may need to submit fingerprints and pass a criminal background check prior to taking the NCLEX-RN. Once you take the NCLEX-RN, you can start looking for behavioral health travel assignments to start your career.

Certifications for a Travel Behavioral Health Nurse

There are several certifications available for registered nurses to obtain. Some are general and can be beneficial across specialties, while others are specialty-specific. Depending on where you're working as a mental health nurse, the certification requirements might vary. Some employers have required certifications, and some are simply suggested. As you think about how to grow your career as a psychiatric mental health travel nurse, these are some certifications worth considering:

  • Basic Life Support (BLS)
  • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMH-BC)

Real Life Experience and Mentoring

Gaining real-life experience in behavioral health settings is invaluable for nurses who want to specialize in psychiatric care. Working directly with patients under the guidance of an experienced psychiatric nurse and other professionals allows registered nurses to apply their education in a practical way.

There are several ways that you can gain hands-on experience in psych nursing. Some ways for nurses to gain this type of experience include:

  • Job shadowing a behavioral health nurse or nurse practitioner
  • Volunteering at community mental health clinics or support groups
  • Seeking internships, externships, or part-time jobs in psychiatric units or mental health facilities

Working alongside seasoned nurses, nurse practitioners, and other mental health professionals provides critical learning opportunities. Nurses can observe how experts communicate with patients, conduct assessments, implement treatment plans, and handle challenging situations. This experience is helpful when starting your career and gaining a deeper understanding of how to treat those with mental health disorders.

In addition to job experience, establishing mentoring relationships is vital. Having an experienced behavioral health nurse as a mentor gives newer nurses someone to turn to for advice, feedback, and guidance related to providing compassionate, ethical psychiatric care. Besides a mentor, Health Carousel Nursing & Allied Health offers a Full Circle of Support and assistance from a QIN-Led team to support you.

Gaining Practical Experience During Education

For nurses pursuing degrees in psychiatric-mental health nursing, experiential learning should be integrated into their coursework. Many programs require students to complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours explicitly focused on mental health nursing.

These clinical rotations allow students to apply concepts from the classroom in real-world treatment settings. Working directly with patients gives nurses hands-on experience in conducting psychiatric evaluations, implementing care plans, administering medications, and honing communication techniques.

Some examples of where travel and staff psychiatric nurses work are:

  • Inpatient psychiatric facilities
  • Outpatient mental health clinics
  • Crisis stabilization units
  • Residential treatment centers
  • Detoxification programs
  • Group therapy settings

Rotating through diverse sites exposes nurses to different patient populations and mental health conditions, fully preparing them for practice.

Role of Internships and Clinical Rotations

Completing internships and rigorous clinical rotations in behavioral health settings is an essential part of education and training for psychiatric nurses. These experiences serve several vital purposes:

  • Allow nurses to apply classroom knowledge in real-world patient care
  • Develop clinical reasoning, critical thinking, and decision-making skills
  • Build communication techniques for working with psychiatric patients
  • Understand the multidisciplinary nature of mental healthcare
  • Increase comfort interacting with patients with mental illness
  • Gain experience with documentation and treatment planning
  • Receive direct supervision and feedback from experienced preceptors

Holistic Approach to Patient Care

Understanding Patient Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity

Psychiatric nurses must provide culturally competent care by understanding how factors like ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status impact mental health and influence treatment. Some areas that a travel psychiatric nurse needs to think about when providing care are:

  • Awareness of personal biases and stereotypes
  • Tailoring communication and education approaches
  • Accommodating varying languages, literacy, and beliefs
  • Involving family and community resources
  • Adjusting assessments and interventions

A holistic perspective honors patients’ unique needs and facilitates trust, engagement, quality care, and optimal outcomes. While this is important in any nursing specialty, when it comes to treating those with mental health disorders, it's that much more important.

Interdisciplinary Team Collaboration

Effective psychiatric treatment relies on collaboration between nurses and other behavioral healthcare providers like psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatrists, and community health workers. Each role contributes important expertise. Nurses serve crucial functions within the interdisciplinary team:

  • Conduct initial intake assessments
  • Provide ongoing nursing care and monitoring
  • Administer psychiatric medications and therapies
  • Communicate emerging issues
  • Coordinate discharge planning

Shared treatment planning, open communication, and mutual respect between providers ensures coordinated, holistic care.

Self-Care and Mental Wellness for Nurses

The emotionally demanding nature of psychiatric nursing can impact your mental health and well-being over time. Many behavioral health travel nurses are too busy taking care of patients and forget about their own well-being. If you're considering a career as a travel nurse in this specialty, taking care of yourself is vital to a successful and happy career. Promoting resilience is key through self-care strategies like:

  • Setting healthy work-life boundaries
  • Pursuing outside interests and relationships
  • Practicing relaxation techniques
  • Fostering positive thinking and gratitude
  • Exercising and eating nutritiously
  • Getting adequate rest and respite

Seeking mental health support when needed is also important. Prioritizing emotional, physical and spiritual self-care helps nurses avoid burnout and compassion fatigue.

Find Your Calling as a Travel Behavioral Health Nurse By Partnering with Health Carousel Nursing & Allied Health

If working with patients struggling with their mental health while traveling around the country sounds like your dream, you can achieve that by working with Health Carousel Nursing & Allied Health.

As a nurse-nominated top 10 travel nurse agency, we have caring recruiters who follow a nurse-centric approach to finding careers, not just contracts. We offer extensive benefits to travel nurses who want to start their travel nurse career, such as:

Starting your career in travel nursing is within reach. Let us take the stress out of searching for the right behavioral health travel nursing career off your shoulders. Check out On Demand, our powerful web app, where you can search for and apply for behavioral health travel nurse jobs across the nation.


What are the mental requirements to be a nurse?

To be a successful nurse requires solid emotional resilience and stress management skills, given the high-pressure and often emotionally charged environment they work in. They must also possess exceptional communication and interpersonal skills to effectively interact with patients, their families, and healthcare team members. Critical thinking and attention to detail are crucial for making accurate assessments, managing complex situations, and ensuring patient safety.

When did psychiatric nursing become a requirement in nursing education?

Psychiatric nursing became a required part of nursing education in the United States after the publication of the National League for Nursing (NLN) Education Standards and Guidelines in 1955. These guidelines mandated that psychiatric nursing content be included in all nursing programs, emphasizing the importance of mental health care in the nursing profession. Prior to this, psychiatric nursing was often considered a specialty area rather than a foundational component of nursing education.

What makes a good behavioral health nurse?

A good behavioral health nurse possesses a deep sense of empathy and strong communication skills, enabling them to connect with patients experiencing mental health challenges effectively. They require a solid foundation in mental health theories and interventions, coupled with patience and the ability to remain calm in challenging situations.


Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.

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Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.

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Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.


Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.

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