Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe, clean environment.

Duties

Psychiatric technicians, sometimes called mental health technicians, typically do the following:

  • Observe patients’ behavior, listen to their concerns, and record their condition
  • Lead patients in therapeutic and recreational activities
  • Give medications and other treatments to patients, following instructions from doctors and other medical professionals
  • Help with admitting and discharging patients
  • Monitor patients’ vital signs, such as their blood pressure
  • Help patients with activities of daily living, including eating and bathing
  • Restrain patients who may become physically violent

Psychiatric aides typically do the following:

  • Monitor patients’ behavior and location in a mental healthcare facility
  • Help patients with their daily living activities, such as bathing or dressing
  • Serve meals and help patients eat
  • Keep facilities clean by doing tasks such as changing bed linens
  • Participate in group activities, such as playing sports or going on field trips
  • Help transport patients within a hospital or residential care facility
  • Restrain patients who may become physically violent

Many psychiatric technicians and aides work with patients who are severely developmentally disabled and need intensive care. Others work with patients undergoing rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction. The work of psychiatric technicians and aides varies depending on the types of patients they work with.

Psychiatric technicians and aides work as part of a medical team, under the direction of physicians and alongside other healthcare professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, counselors, and therapists. For more information on the counselors and therapists they may work with, see the profiles on substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists.

Because they have such close contact with patients, psychiatric technicians and aides can have a great deal of influence on patients' outlook and treatment.

Work Environment

Psychiatric technicians held about 71,000 jobs in 2012. Psychiatric aides held about 82,000 jobs in 2012.

The industries that employed the most psychiatric technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 56%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 27
Residential care facilities 8
Outpatient care centers 3
Offices of health practitioners 2

The industries that employed the most psychiatric aides in 2012 were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 42%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 26
Residential care facilities 21
Individual, family, community, and vocational
rehabilitation services
4
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 2

Psychiatric technicians and aides may spend much of their shift on their feet. Some of the work that psychiatric aides do may be unpleasant. They may care for patients whose illnesses make them disoriented, uncooperative, or violent.

Injuries and Illnesses

Because their work requires many physically demanding tasks, such as lifting patients, psychiatric technicians and aides have high injury and illness rates.

Work Schedules

Psychiatric technicians and aides may work full time or part time. Because hospitals and residential facilities are open at all hours, many psychiatric technicians and aides work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Education and Training

Psychiatric technicians typically need postsecondary education, and aides need at least a high school diploma. Both technicians and aides receive on-the-job training.

Education

Psychiatric technicians typically enter the occupation with a postsecondary certificate. Programs in psychiatric or mental health technology are commonly offered by community colleges and technical schools.

Psychiatric technician programs include courses in biology, psychology, and counseling. The programs also may include supervised work experience or cooperative programs, in which students gain academic credit for structured work experience.

Programs for psychiatric technicians range in length from 1 semester to 2 years, and they may award a certificate or an associate’s degree.

Psychiatric aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. Postsecondary courses in psychology or mental health technology may be helpful.

Training

Psychiatric technicians and aides typically participate in a short period of on-the-job training before they can work without direct supervision.

Training may include working with patients while under the close supervision of an experienced technician or aide. Technicians and aides may also attend workshops, lectures, or in-service training.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Because psychiatric technicians and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients, they should be caring and want to help people.

Interpersonal skills. Psychiatric technicians and aides often provide ongoing care for patients, so they should be able to develop a rapport with patients, making them better able to treat their patients and evaluate their condition.

Observational skills. Technicians must watch patients closely and be sensitive to any changes in behavior. For their safety and that of their patients, they must recognize signs of discomfort or trouble among patients.

Patience. Working with the mentally ill can be emotionally challenging. Psychiatric technicians and aides must be able to stay calm in stressful situations.

Physical stamina. Psychiatric technicians and aides must be able to lift, move, and sometimes restrain patients. They must also be able to spend much of their time on their feet.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In 2013, four states—Arkansas, California, Colorado, and Kansas—required licensure of psychiatric technicians. Although specific requirements vary, states usually require psychiatric technicians to complete an accredited education program, pass an exam, and pay a fee to be licensed.

Psychiatric aides are not required to be licensed.

The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers four levels of certification for psychiatric technicians. The certifications allow technicians to show a high level of professional competency. Requirements vary by certification.

Pay

The median annual wage for psychiatric technicians was $30,050 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,550, and the top 10 percent earned more than $52,980.

The median annual wage for psychiatric aides was $24,580 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,960, and the top 10 percent earned more than $40,430.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for psychiatric technicians in the top five industries in which these technicians worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $32,010
Offices of health practitioners 31,470
Hospitals; state, local, and private 30,830
Residential care facilities 24,440
Outpatient care centers 23,560

In May 2012, the median annual wages for psychiatric aides in the top five industries in which these aides worked were as follows: 

Hospitals; state, local, and private $28,340
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 25,580
Individual, family, community, and vocational
rehabilitation services
25,040
Residential care facilities 22,680
State government, excluding education and hospitals 18,840

Psychiatric technicians and aides may work full time or part time. Because hospitals and residential facilities are open at all hours, many psychiatric technicians and aides work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook

Employment of psychiatric technicians is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment of psychiatric aides is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

As the nation’s population ages and people live longer, there is likely to be an increase in the number of older men and women with cognitive mental diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Demand for psychiatric technicians and aides in residential facilities are expected to rise as a result. In addition, the aging prison population has increased the need for psychiatric technicians and aides in correctional facilities.

More psychiatric technicians and aides will be needed in residential treatment facilities and in outpatient care centers for people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and substance abuse problems. There is a long-term trend toward treating psychiatric patients in community-based settings rather than in hospitals. These settings allow patients greater independence, and they are often more cost-effective.

Federal health legislation will expand the number of patients who have access to health insurance, increasing patient access to medical care. Federal health insurance reform will expand coverage of mental health disorders to millions of people, and more technicians and aides will be needed to provide mental health services.

For More Information

For more information about psychiatric technicians and aides, visit

American Association of Psychiatric Technicians

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

Share your thoughts