How Can I Become a Behavioral Health Technician?

Research what it takes to become a behavioral health technician. Learn about educational and licensure mandates, typical work responsibilities and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Behavioral Health Technician?

A behavioral health technician is a psychiatric technician who assists a psychiatrist specializing in treating patients with behavioral disorders. These include alcohol addiction, drug abuse, eating disorders, gambling addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others. Technicians support the work of psychiatrists by monitoring patients and recording their physical and emotional symptoms. When working in residential living facilities, they may also assist with daily activities and administer prescription medications.

The following table provides information concerning this career.

Education Required Certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Behavioral health, mental health technician, psychology, human services
Key Responsibilities Support for people with mental illnesses and disabilities, assist with personal care, administer prescribed medication
Licensure/Certification State license requirements vary by location, professional certification (recommended for employment)
Job Growth (2014-24) 5% (for all psychiatric technicians)*
Average Salary (2015) $36,280 (for all psychiatric technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need?

Most behavioral health technicians, also known as psychiatric technicians, have an associate's degree or have been trained either on the job or through a vocational training program. You may qualify for entry-level jobs if you have a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate and experience in the field.

You can earn a mental health technician certificate or complete an associate's or bachelor's degree in behavioral health, psychology or human services. Many certificate and associate's degree programs include internships in which you could gain experience working with behavioral health patients. Courses may include anatomy and physiology, psychology, nursing and mental health.

Do I Need a License or Certification?

If you want to work in Arkansas, California or Colorado, you will be required to obtain a license to provide care for people with mental illnesses or disabilities. The Kansas Department of Administration divides licensed and unlicensed behavioral health technicians into distinct roles for those working in a state operated institutions (www.da.ks.gov).

Most states do not mandate licensing for behavioral health technicians, but employers may require that you obtain certification from a credentialing organization, such as the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT). The AAPT offers four levels of certifications to technicians with varying degrees of experience and education (www.psychtechs.org). Level one requires only a high school diploma or GED, and level four requires a bachelor's degree. To qualify for any level of certification, you'll need to pass a multiple choice and written examination.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

You'll provide support for people with mental illnesses and disabilities as deemed necessary by a psychiatrist, case manager or physician. You'll monitor and chart a client's mental and physical health status. You could also assist with personal care issues, such as oral hygiene. In some settings, you may be required to administer prescribed medications. You could work at a mental health institution, assisted living facility, hospital, rehabilitation center or vocational service organization. Keep in mind that most employers will require that you pass a criminal background check and drug screening.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a psychiatric technician, you could choose to focus your work on an area other than behavioral health. For instance, you might work in a residential care facility for individuals who are severely developmentally disabled. In this setting, you would probably spend more time helping people complete daily tasks like eating and bathing. You might also be interested in a assistant job in another area of the medical field. For instance, as a physical therapist assistant, you would help teach patients exercises to help improve their strength and range of motion after injuries, and you would help physical therapists give treatments like massage and ultrasound. Physical therapist assistants need to have an associate's degree and a license to practice.

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