Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care and monitor their patients’ conditions. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe and 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 and 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 and 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 with the types of patients they work with.

Psychiatric technicians and aides work as part of a medical team under the direction of physicians and with other team members, who may include 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, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, rehabilitation 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.

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Work Environment

Psychiatric aides held about 61,600 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of psychiatric aides were as follows:

Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals; state, local, and private                             42%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 20
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 7
Residential intellectual and developmental disability facilities 7

Psychiatric technicians held about 76,600 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of psychiatric technicians were as follows:

Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals; state, local, and private                              43%
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 13
State government, excluding education and hospitals 8
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 7
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 5

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

Psychiatric technicians and aides have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Their work requires many physically demanding tasks, such as lifting patients. They also work with patients who may be physically uncooperative, which can cause injuries.

Work Schedule

Psychiatric technicians and aides may work full time or part time. Because hospitals and residential facilities operate 24 hours a day, many psychiatric technicians and aides work nights, weekends, and holidays

Education and Training

Psychiatric technicians typically need a postsecondary certificate, and aides need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Both technicians and aides get on-the-job training.

Education

Psychiatric technicians typically have a postsecondary certificate. Often, they have experience as a nursing assistant or a licensed practical nurse and have completed postsecondary education in nursing.

Other psychiatric technicians may have a postsecondary certificate or associate’s degree in psychiatric or mental health technology. These programs are offered by community colleges and technical schools and include courses in biology, psychology, and counseling. Psychiatric technician programs may include supervised work experience or cooperative programs, in which students gain academic credit for structured work experience.

Psychiatric aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent.

Training

Psychiatric technicians and aides usually have 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.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Psychiatric technicians typically need clinical experience, which can be gained by working in occupations such as nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states do not require psychiatric technicians to have a license. California is one of the larger states that requires a license. In those states which license them, technicians usually are required to complete an accredited education program, pass an exam, and pay a fee 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.

Psychiatric aides are not required to be licensed.

Personality and Interests

Psychiatric technicians typically have an interest in the Building, Helping and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Helping or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a psychiatric technician, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Psychiatric technicians should also possess the following specific 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.

Pay

The median annual wage for psychiatric aides was $31,110 in May 2019. 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 $21,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $47,690.

The median annual wage for psychiatric technicians was $33,780 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,120.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for psychiatric aides in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals; state, local, and private                            $33,680
State government, excluding education and hospitals 31,950
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 28,060
Residential intellectual and developmental disability facilities 23,290

In May 2019, the median annual wages for psychiatric technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $45,280
Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals; state, local, and private                            34,340
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 33,550
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 30,360
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 29,240

Psychiatric technicians and aides may work full time or part time. Because hospitals and residential facilities operate 24 hours a day, many psychiatric technicians and aides work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of psychiatric technicians and aides is projected to grow 12 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Cognitive mental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, are more likely to occur among older persons. As the nation’s population ages and people live longer, demand for psychiatric technicians and aides is expected to increase because these workers will be needed to care for patients affected by such disorders.

Psychiatric technicians and aides also will be needed in correctional facilities, to care for the aging prisoner population and for those with mental health issues.

For More Information

For more information about psychiatric technicians and aides, visit

American Association of Psychiatric Technicians

 

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