Psychiatric Technician and Aide Careers

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Psychiatric technicians and aides care for patients with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.

Psychiatric technicians and aides are medical professionals who work with patients experiencing mental health challenges. They typically work under the supervision of a licensed doctor or registered nurse.

Psychiatric aides are generally trained on-site at the hospital or clinic where they intend to work. These professionals must earn a college certificate or associate degree, and may also need state licensure. The median psychiatric technician and aide salary is $32,000 per year, and jobs are projected to grow 12% between 2019-2029 -- much faster than the national average for all occupations.

Table of Contents

This page covers psychiatric technician careers, including job duties, education requirements, and certification options.

What Are Psychiatric Technicians and Aides?

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

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

Psychiatric technicians and aides often work together as part of a medical team led by a physician. This team may also include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, counselors, or therapists.

Psychiatric technicians and aides need compassion, empathy, and interpersonal skills to help them interact successfully with patients. They also need observational skills and attention to detail, which help them monitor and record patient conditions and changes.

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 Aides Do?

Psychiatric technicians and psychiatric aides both work in hospitals and residential facilities, but the two roles have different responsibilities. Psychiatric technicians provide therapeutic care for patients, usually including administering medications and treatments. They also monitor patients' vital signs, help patients with basic tasks, and lead recreational activities.

Psychiatric technicians typically need a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree, and many have backgrounds working as a nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse (LPN).

Essential Career Information for Psychiatric Technicians
Median Annual Salary $33,780
Employment Growth Forecast from 2019-2029 13%
Number of New Jobs from 2019-2029 11,000
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Postsecondary Certificate
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $62,120
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $23,440

Source: BLS.gov: OOH, November 2019

Psychiatric aides work with the same patient population, but they provide more basic care. They monitor patients in mental healthcare facilities and assist them with daily living, including things like serving meals, helping patients eat, and helping patients dress. They also keep facilities clean and help transport patients when necessary.

Psychiatric aide jobs require less training and experience than psychiatric technician jobs. A high school diploma or GED diploma meets the minimum education requirement, and most psychiatric aides complete on-the-job training to build the necessary skills.

Essential Career Information for Psychiatric Aides
Median Annual Salary $31,110
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 12%
Number of New Jobs from 2018-2028 6,500
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements High School Diploma or Equivalent
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $47,690
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $21,440

Source: BLS.gov

Some psychiatric technicians and aides work in rehabilitation facilities, assisting patients undergoing rehabilitation for drug or alcohol addiction. Others work in long-term care facilities, helping patients with severe developmental disabilities who require 24-hour care. They may also work in general hospitals or nursing homes.

How to Become a Psychiatric Technician or Aide

Psychiatric technicians and aides have separate educational pathways. Psychiatric technicians generally need postsecondary educational training, which they earn through a one-year certificate program or an associate degree, while psychiatric aides usually only need a high school diploma and instead complete on-the-job training.

Psychiatric Technician Education

During a psychiatric technician program, students study biology, counseling, and mental health. Many programs also incorporate supervised work experience to provide on-the-job training.

After meeting these education requirements, psychiatric technicians must complete a brief training period under the supervision of an experienced psychiatric technician. Some employers prefer candidates with prior clinical experience, which psychiatric technicians can build by working as a nursing assistant or LPN.

In some states, like California, psychiatric technicians need a license. To earn the license, candidates must complete an accredited psychiatric tech program and pass an exam. Psychiatric technicians can also pursue voluntary certification through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT).

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.

Prospective psychiatric technicians can also 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 medical jobs.

Associate Degree Programs

Psychiatric technicians with associate degrees have a competitive edge in the job market. These programs cover topics like human development, human behavior, and psychiatry, as well as general education classes like English, math, and communication. Students may major in psychiatric technology, psychology, or nursing to prepare for a psychiatric technician career.

Earning an associate degree generally takes two years for full-time students, and graduates can pursue entry-level jobs or transfer into a bachelor's program. With a bachelor's degree, psychiatric technicians can advance to careers in nursing, mental health counseling, or social work.

Psychiatric Aide Education

For psychiatric aides, the education process is much simpler. First, candidates need a high school or GED diploma, which they can use to apply to a job as an aide.

Once accepted, they complete on-the-job training with the employer, which usually includes both workshops and lectures. The training period builds technical, interpersonal, and observational skills.

While not required for the job, an associate degree or certificate can give psychiatric aides a leg up on the competition and provide more opportunities for career advancement later.

On-the-Job Training

During on-the-job training, new hires 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 strengthen their observational skills, learning to watch patients closely to identify changes in their behavior or signs of discomfort.

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Professional Licensure and Certification

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

Optionally, psychiatric technicians can also pursue certification to demonstrate their professional skills. The AAPT offers four levels of certification for psychiatric technicians, each with 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatric Technician?

Aspiring psychiatric technicians need a one-year postgraduate certificate or a two-year associate degree to become a psychiatric technician. They often have previous work experience as a nursing assistant or LPN, though this is not required.

How Much Do Psychiatric Technicians Make per Hour?

According to the BLS, the median hourly rate for psychiatric technicians and aides in 2019 was $15.40 per hour.

How Do You Become a Licensed Psychiatric Technician?

In states where licensure is required for psychiatric technicians, candidates typically must meet education requirements and pass an examination to become licensed. Details vary by state, so it is best to check with your local licensure authority for more information.

Can You Be a Psychiatric Technician With a Bachelor's in Psychology?

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