Becoming a Mental Health Technician in 5 Steps

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue as a mental health technician. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information At a Glance

Mental health technicians, also known as psychiatric aides or psychiatric technicians, are medical support personnel who provide direct personal care to psychiatric patients. They perform a variety of duties under the supervision of nurses, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. See the table below for more information about career requirements.

Degree RequiredAssociate's degree
Education Field of StudyMental Health Technology
Mental Health Technician
Key ResponsibilitiesMonitoring patients and reporting problematic behavior
Assist patients with activities of daily living
Educate patients about self-care
Encourage participation in therapeutic activities
Restrain suicidal or violent patients
Licensure/CertificationA few states require licensure; voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2012-2022)5% for psychiatric technicians*
Mean Salary (2013)$33,470 for psychiatric technicians*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Mental Health Technician?

Mental health technicians, also known as psychiatric aides or psychiatric technicians, are medical support personnel who provide direct personal care to psychiatric patients. Their work consists of monitoring patients and reporting abnormal, disturbed or disruptive behavior. They also record vital signs, clean patient rooms and assist patients with bathing, grooming and dressing. At times, these aides educate patients about self-care, encourage participation in social and therapeutic activities and restrain suicidal or violent patients. They might also confer with medical staff about treatment and lead group therapy sessions. Technicians perform their duties under the supervision of nurses, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You can begin initial preparations by completing high school-level courses in biology, chemistry, English, psychology and sociology. Some high schools have nursing programs that offer training courses designed for mental health technicians. You can become familiar with the work by volunteering at a hospital or mental health clinic.

Step 2: Earn an Associate's Degree

Associate of Applied Science degree programs in Mental Health Technology or Mental Health Technician are available at many community and 4-year colleges. Programs provide you with training in fundamental mental health concepts to help you understand mental illness and basic nursing skills to care for them. Addiction and substance abuse, abnormal psychology, counseling methods, behavior modification and crisis intervention are likely course topics. You may also have to complete general education courses in composition, the arts and humanities. Associate degrees are typically earned in two years.

Step 3: Participate in an Internship

Most mental health technology and technician programs include at least one internship or practicum course. Internships provide an opportunity to accumulate hundreds of hours of supervised clinical work experience. You would serve your internship at a local hospital or clinic that has partnered with your school.

Step 4: Gain Employment as a Mental Health Technician

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), your leading employment options in descending order include psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, residential mental health facilities, state health agencies, general medical hospitals and individual family service providers. Approximately 153,000 people worked as mental health technicians as of 2012. Employment was projected to grow 5% between 2012 and 2022. While growth is slow for this career option, the growth that exists may be due to an increasingly elderly population and a trend toward caring for the mentally ill at residential facilities rather than hospitals. The mean annual salary of psychiatric technicians as of May 2013 was $33,470.

Step 5: Consider Advancing Your Career

You can use your training for advancement to other healthcare careers, such as a medical assistant or licensed practical nurse. Your associate's degree combined with work experience might be sufficient to transition into a medical assistant position but nursing may require additional course work and will definitely require licensing. According to the BLS, medical assistants earned a mean annual salary of $30,780 and licensed practical nurses earned $42,910 in May 2013.

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