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Psychiatric technicians and aides care for patients with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. The average psychiatric technician salary exceeds $32,000 a year, with strong projected job growth through 2028.

Essential Career Information for Psychiatric Technicians
Median Annual Salary $32,870
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 12%
Number of New Jobs from 2018-2028 9,500
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Postsecondary Certificate
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $64,430
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $22,800

Source: BLS.gov: OOH, May 2018

Essential Career Information for Psychiatric Aides
Median Annual Salary $29,180
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 11%
Number of New Jobs from 2018-2028 6,900
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements High School Diploma or Equivalent
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $46,490
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $19,830

Source: BLS.gov

What are Psychiatric Technicians and Psychiatric Aides?

A psychiatric technician, also known as a mental health technician, is a healthcare professional who offers therapeutic care for patients. By contrast, a psychiatric aide is a healthcare worker who monitors patients and assists with daily living activities, like eating and bathing.

Psychiatric technicians and aides work together as part of a medical team led by a physician.

Psychiatric technicians and aides work together as part of a medical team led by a physician. This team may include psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses. Social workers, counselors, and therapists specializing in mental health or developmental disabilities may also work alongside the medical team. Psychiatric technicians and aides must bring compassion, empathy, and interpersonal skills to their role. They also draw on observational skills to look for changes in a patient's behavior.

Most psychiatric technicians and aides work in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals or general hospitals. They also work in residential mental health and developmental disability facilities in addition to outpatient centers. Because these facilities house patients 24 hours a day, psychiatric technicians and aides often work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays.

Alternate Job Titles for Psychiatric Technicians

  • Behavioral Health Technician
  • Mental Health Technician

Alternate Job Titles for Psychiatric Aides

  • Mental Health Orderly
  • Psychiatric Nursing Aide
  • Psychiatric Orderly
  • Psychiatric Technician Assistant

What do Psychiatric Technicians and Psychiatric Aides Do?

Both psychiatric technicians and psychiatric aides work in hospitals and residential facilities; however, the two titles carry different responsibilities and requirements. Psychiatric technicians provide therapeutic care for patients, including administering medications and treatments. They also monitor patients' vital signs, help patients with basic tasks, and lead recreational activities.

Psychiatric technicians may work as behavioral health technicians or mental health technicians. The position typically requires a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree, and many individuals bring a background as a nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse (LPN).

Both psychiatric technicians and psychiatric aides work in hospitals and residential facilities; however, the two titles carry different responsibilities and requirements.

In contrast, psychiatric aides work with the same patient population but provide more basic care. They monitor patients in mental healthcare facilities, serve meals, help patients eat, and assist patients with other daily living activities, such as dressing. They also ensure patients enjoy a clean, safe facility and transport patients within the residential care facility or hospital.

Psychiatric aide jobs generally require less training than psychiatric technician jobs. Candidates with a high school diploma meet the minimum education requirement, and most psychiatric aides complete on-the-job training to build their skills.

Psychiatric technicians and aides support patients with severe developmental disabilities who require 24-hour care. They also assist patients struggling with mental health disorders and substance use disorders. Some psychiatric technicians and aides work in rehabilitation facilities, assisting patients undergoing rehabilitation for drug or alcohol addiction.

How to Become a Psychiatric Technician and Psychiatric Aide

Psychiatric technicians and aides follow different educational pathways. Psychiatric technician jobs generally require postsecondary educational training, which many fulfill through a one-year certificate program or an associate degree. Psychiatric aides, in contrast, often need only a high school diploma to qualify for job opportunities.

During a psychiatric tech program, students take classes on topics like biology, counseling, and mental health. Many programs incorporate supervised work experience to provide on-the-job training. Some jobs prefer candidates with prior clinical experience, which psychiatric technicians can build by working as a nursing assistant or LPN.

After meeting the education requirements, psychiatric technicians must complete a brief training period under the supervision of an experienced psychiatric technician. Similarly, psychiatric aides often complete on-the-job training, which may include workshops and lectures. The training period strengthens interpersonal and observational skills, which psychiatric technicians and aides use to perform their duties.

In a small number of states, including California, psychiatric technicians must hold a license. To earn the license, candidates must complete an accredited psychiatric tech program and pass an examination. Psychiatric technicians can also pursue voluntary certification through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians.

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On-the-Job Training

Most psychiatric aides complete on-the-job training. During this training, psychiatric aides shadow experienced psychiatric aides and learn through workshops or lectures. The training emphasizes skills that psychiatric aides need to succeed, like compassion and patience.

During on-the-job training, psychiatric aides and psychiatric technicians also strengthen their observational skills. Both types of professionals must watch patients closely to identify changes in their behavior or signs of discomfort.

Certificate Programs

A postsecondary certificate in psychiatric technology or mental health technology prepares graduates for careers as psychiatric technicians. During a certificate program, students complete coursework related to mental health treatment, developmental disabilities, and counseling. Students may also gain professional experience through an internship or cooperative program.

In addition to a certificate in psychiatric technology, prospective psychiatric technicians can pursue a certificate for LPNs or nursing assistants. Most certificate programs take around one year to complete, during which students build the knowledge and skills required for entry-level jobs as a psychiatric technician.

Associate Degree Programs

Psychiatric technicians with an associate degree enjoy a competitive edge in the market. Students complete coursework on topics like human development, human behavior, and psychiatry. Learners also take general education classes on topics like English, math, and communication, which strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition to a degree in psychiatric technology, an associate degree in psychology or nursing can prepare students for a psychiatric technician career.

Earning an associate degree generally takes two years for full-time students to complete. Graduates can pursue jobs as psychiatric technicians or transfer into a bachelor's program. Experience as a psychiatric technician prepares graduates for careers in nursing, mental health counseling, and social work, most of which require at least a bachelor's degree.

Professional Licensure and Certification

A small number of states require psychiatric technicians to hold professional licensure. For example, in California, only a licensed psychiatric technician can work in hospitals, residential facilities, and other healthcare settings. States that license psychiatric technicians set their own requirements, which typically include a certificate or degree from an accredited psychiatric tech program and passing scores on an examination.

In addition to licensure, psychiatric technicians can pursue certification to demonstrate their skills. The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers four levels of certification for psychiatric technicians, which include education and experience requirements. For example, level 3 certified psychiatric technicians must complete 60 credits of college classes and at least two years of professional experience. Candidates must also pass an examination and essay test depending on the level of certification.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a psychiatric technician?

Students can pursue a one-year postgraduate certificate or a two-year associate degree to become a psychiatric technician.

How much do psychiatric technicians make an hour?

The average psychiatric technician salary exceeds $15 an hour, or over $32,000 a year. Psychiatric aides earn a slightly lower salary.

How do you become a licensed psychiatric technician?

Candidates must meet education requirements and pass an examination to become a licensed psychiatric technician. Professionals can also pursue certification through the American Association Of Psychiatric Technicians.

Can you be a psychiatric technician with a bachelor's in psychology?

Yes; most psychiatric technician jobs only require an associate degree. Candidates with a bachelor's degree exceed the minimum education requirement.

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