Guide to Behavioral Health Nursing Jobs

Last Updated on April 12, 2023

Guide to Behavioral Health Nursing Jobs

As Mental Health Month approaches, you can expect employers to increase staffing for behavioral health nursing jobs to help meet important patient care goals. And for nurses seeking new career horizons — or who are looking to expand their niche in mental or behavioral health roles — there’s no better time to explore the benefits of working one of these essential jobs.

With that in mind, here’s a guide to behavioral health nursing jobs, and a rundown of what nurses should know before they apply for their next opportunity.

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What You Should Know about Behavioral Health Nursing Jobs

What is Behavioral Health Nursing?

How are behavioral health nurses different from those working in mental health? As defined by the American Medical Association (AMA), behavioral health “generally refers to mental health and substance use disorders, life stressors and crises, and stress-related physical symptoms. Behavioral health care refers to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of those conditions.”

So, behavioral health is a larger category that also includes mental health. Nurses working in these specialties are often grouped together, and roles can overlap. The main difference is that behavioral health doesn’t just consider a patient’s mental health, but also the physical, emotional, social and practical considerations of recovery. It also usually involves helping prevention and awareness efforts within a patient population or community.

Many of the most common behavioral health conditions were traditionally thought of as mental health issues, such as eating disorders, or drug or alcohol dependencies. But treating these conditions now goes beyond psychiatric care to include discovering the causes and working to fix them — for instance, the underlying anxiety or depression that leads to substance abuse.

Demand for Behavioral Health Nursing

Thanks to recent breakthroughs in understanding behavioral health and how to treat it, nurses with the skills to do so are in high demand today. Nurses motivated to help patients work through mental and behavioral issues and actively improve their quality of life often have their choice of career opportunities. And those with specific skills and experience in behavioral health may be able to command higher salaries than ever.

“The supply of skilled, educated, and trained mental health professionals has not been able to keep up with growing demand,” according to a report from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA).

“Far more individuals are in need of care and support for a wide range of mental health conditions — including depression, anxiety, acute grief, drug or alcohol addiction, personality disorders, and psychoses — than can access a mental health professional.”

The good news is that employers are stepping up to help fill this gap. Because there’s more demand, and because the government has been expanding reimbursement for these services, healthcare operators are hiring more behavioral health nurses than ever, across a wide range of settings and facilities. If you’re an RN, LPN, LVN or CNA seeking a new career path, here’s what you should know about behavioral health nursing jobs.

> Ready to dive in? Check out our open behavioral health nursing jobs here

Behavioral Health Nursing Jobs: Requirements & Opportunities

So, what can you expect when you sign up for a behavioral health nursing job? Many types of conditions and patients fall under the behavioral nurse umbrella. And that means there’s an equally wide variety of available jobs, too.

In other words, although most behavioral health nursing jobs are for psychiatric nurses, demand is growing for workers in other specialties. For instance, nurses who specialize in fields like neurology, addiction treatment or nutrition may be qualified for certain roles. Nurses who are also licensed as clinical social workers often have even more opportunities to choose from.  

Common Behavioral Health Nursing Certifications

You might need a certification to work in behavioral health. The most commonly requested certification in mental and behavioral health assignments is the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMH-BC™) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Other certifications may be required depending on where a specific job is, and what kind of patients it treats.

Other certifications and continuing education (CE) courses are also available for nurses who’d like to focus on a specific type of behavioral health job. For instance, if you’re considering specializing in substance abuse or addiction, you’ll probably need a Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN) certification.  

But even if you’re not certified yet, you may still be able to find an entry-level behavioral nurse job. Demand is so high that some jobs are accepting new grads. Although most employers prefer at least some experience, the need to treat patients with mental and behavioral health disorders is so great that minimal experience may be expected.

As with many other nursing jobs, the best opportunities are for those who are organized, who communicate well, and who are comfortable making decisions. Since working through a treatment plan with patients and their families is usually central to behavioral health plan, nurses should also feel comfortable working as a counselor, too, or even as an educator.

Find Your Next Behavioral Health Nursing Job with CareerStaff

At CareerStaff, we’re proud to have many behavioral health nursing jobs available across the United States. Whether you work a permanent, temp or travel job, you’ll get access to the same suite of great CareerStaff benefits, including weekly direct deposit; referral bonuses; medical, dental and vision insurance; and a pipeline to hundreds of new opportunities when your assignment is over.

And that’s just the beginning. You can read more about the benefits of working a CareerStaff nursing job here, or get the ball rolling by quick applying to behavioral health nursing jobs today!

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