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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.

What Does a Mental Health Technician Do?

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. Some of these duties include sitting down with patients to observe their condition, making records of concerns, administering medications, escorting patients to daily activities and helping patients complete daily activities. Aside from working with patients, mental health technicians may also aid doctors in the admitting and discharging of patients. In extreme cases, technicians may be required to physically restrain patients who become physically violent. See the table below for more information about career requirements.

Education RequiredCertificate or associate'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 (2018-2028)12% for psychiatric technicians*
Median Salary (2018)$32,870 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 a Certificate or an Associate's Degree

Associate's degrees or certificates 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, 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 71,360 people worked as mental health technicians as of 2018. Employment was projected to grow 12% between 2018 and 2028. 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 2018 was $37,760.

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 $34,540 and licensed practical nurses earned $47,050 in May 2018.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As mentioned above two related careers you may want to considered include medical assistants and licensed practical nurses. Both of these careers may require you to aid patients in various daily tasks, keep medical records and monitor vital signs. Another related career includes child care work. Child care workers help children learn daily tasks, listen to children's concerns, manage behavioral problems and document outstanding events. Home health aides travel to clients' homes and help clients complete daily tasks they can't do on their own.