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  • Writer's pictureRyan Sheridan, NP

ADHD Treatment in Washington DC: Differentiating Psychiatrists & Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Updated: Dec 26, 2023



 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners are both trained to assess, treat, and manage ADHD.

  2. Psychiatrists tend to have a more medicalized approach to ADHD while psychiatric nurse practitioners tend to take a more holistic approach.

  3. In most states and Washington, DC, psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse practitioners have similar or overlapping scopes of practice, enabling both to effectively treat ADHD.

 

Are you looking for ADHD treatment and wondering about the differences between a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner? Have you heard psychiatric nurse practitioners can’t prescribe controlled substances? In this blog post, I'm going to explore the education, approach, and scope of practice of these two similar, but different mental health professionals.

Before we dive in, I want to be clear. I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Washington, DC and I treat ADHD. But, I do not believe my role is inherently better or worse than that of a psychiatrist. Both the role of the psychiatrist and the role of the psychiatric nurse practitioner are established to treat and manage mental health.

So the objective isn’t to make you think more highly of one or the other here. My goal is to educate you on the differences so that you’re better informed when making a health care decisions and to clear up confusion about who can provide what service for individuals with ADHD.

Education: Psychiatrist vs Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner for ADHD

Education

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed a four-year medical degree followed by a residency in psychiatry. This means they have completed extensive training in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of mental illnesses, including ADHD. Psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medication and perform therapy.


Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who have completed a master's or doctoral degree in nursing, with a specialization in psychiatric-mental health. They are trained to provide a range of mental health services, including therapy and medication management.

You might think they sound the same. Generally speaking, their roles mirror each other. Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners are both trained to assess, treat, and manage ADHD.


Both psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe controlled substances, which includes many of the medications for ADHD.

Approach: Psychiatrist vs Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner for ADHD

When it comes to approach, both psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners take a patient-centered approach to care, meaning they focus on the unique needs and experiences of each individual they treat. I'm going to expand on this topic in another post but here are the basics.

ADHD Medication

Psychiatrists tend to have a more medicalized approach to treatment, meaning they focus on the biological and neurological factors that contribute to mental illness. They may rely more heavily on medication as treatment for ADHD, although they may also recommend therapy or other interventions.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners tend to take a more holistic approach to treatment, meaning they focus on the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and environment. They may use a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication management to treat ADHD, with a greater emphasis on non-medication approaches.

Again, this is not about which role in inherently better. I am speaking generally here. Undoubtedly there are psychiatrist who are overwhelmingly holistic and there are psychiatric nurse practitioners who are not.

As a psychiatric nurse practitioner I can tell you that I am heavily invested in delivering an integrative and holistic treatment approach. This means I believe in treating each person as a whole, including for ADHD. I discuss specific for ADHD, like exercise for and nutrition in other articles.

I still believe in the use of medication. I just don’t believe medication should be the only intervention used, even and especially for ADHD.

Scope of Practice: Psychiatrist vs Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner for ADHD

Finally, let's look at the scope of practice for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners. While both professions are qualified to provide mental health care, there are some differences in what they are legally allowed to do.

As medical doctors, psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medication and provide a wide range of medical treatments for mental illness. They may also be qualified to perform more specialized procedures.

ADHD Therapy

Psychiatric nurse practitioners, on the other hand, are licensed to provide many of the same mental health services as psychiatrists, including therapy and medication management. However, their scope of practice varies from state to state.


While psychiatric nurse practitioners are able to prescribe, some states limit their ability to do so by requiring psychiatric nurse practitioners to collaborate with psychiatrist. If you’re in Washington, DC or Maryland (or 24 other states) psychiatric nurse practitioners can be licensed to practice independently.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners can perform many specialized procedures with a certification and specialized training. For ADHD, this may include special therapy modalities.

Conclusion: Psychiatrist vs Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner for ADHD

Psychiatrist for ADHD in Washington DC

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners for ADHD in Washington DC

Education

Completed a four-year medical degree followed by a residency in psychiatry

Completed a master's or doctoral degree in nursing, with a specialization in psychiatric-mental health

Approach

Medicalized approach, focusing on biological and neurological factors that contribute to mental illness

Holistic approach, focusing on the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and environment

Scope of Practice

Licensed to prescribe medication and provide a wide range of medical treatments for mental illness

Licensed to provide the same mental health services as psychiatrists

Prescriptive Authority

Able to write prescriptions including controlled substances

Also able to write prescriptions including controlled substances

In conclusion, both psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners can provide effective ADHD treatment in Washington DC, but they may approach treatment differently based on their education and training. Psychiatrists have completed medical school and residency and are licensed to prescribe medication, while psychiatric nurse practitioners have completed advanced nursing degrees and can provide a range of mental health services, including therapy and medication management.

Ultimately, the choice between a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner depends on your personal preferences and the specific approach to treatment that feels most comfortable for you.

This might leave you feeling like there isn’t a huge difference for managing ADHD. To that I would say, the most notable differences will be between each provider.

As I said before, I practice integrative psychiatry, which may or may not be right for you. While I offer a more comprehensive approach to managing ADHD including medication, therapy, coaching, nutrition and exercise support, you may looking for something else. In a future post I will talk more about how to choose a provider, for ADHD and for other diagnoses. (Hint: it’s all about personal preference and finding a good fit!)




If you have any additional questions about ADHD or integrative psychiatry in general, shoot me an email or reach out through my website. If you're looking for a provider and you're in the Washington, DC area, I'd love to help you on your treatment journey!


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