How to Become a Psychiatric Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for psychiatric technicians. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, licensure and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Psychiatric Technician Do?

Psychiatric technicians help and care for patients who have mental and emotional illnesses. They typically work as a medical team that may include physicians, psychiatrists, nurses and more. Psychiatric technicians help patients with daily tasks, monitor their vital signs and may help restrain them if necessary. They also observe patients' behavior, administer medications and keep detailed medical records. Psychiatric technicians may have some administrative duties, such as helping admit or discharge patients or plan recreational activities for their patients. Take a look at the table below for a quick overview of this profession.

Education Required Postsecondary certificate or associate's degree
Training Required Short on-the-job training
Key Responsibilities Assist patients with grooming and personal hygiene, monitor patients' behavior, document and report abnormal behavior in patients
Licensure Required Licensure is required in California, Kansas, Arkansas and Colorado
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5%*
Median Salary (2015) $31,140*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Psychiatric Technician?

A psychiatric technician is a medical support worker who cares for mentally or emotionally disturbed patients as directed by a supervising physician, psychologist or other professional. Caregiving may include assisting with personal grooming and hygiene; encouraging the development of work skills, social skills and social relationships; providing medication; and conducting therapy sessions. Technicians also record blood pressure and temperature, monitor patient behavior, report unusual behavior to medical staff, and help restrain violent or suicidal patients.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A diploma is the minimum level of education necessary to become a psychiatric technician and a prerequisite for entry into any postsecondary training program in the mental health field. According to the National Institute of Health Office of Science Education, courses in art, hygiene, music, psychology and social science are helpful if you want to become a psychiatric technician (www.science.education.nih.gov). Math, English, health sciences and office management are also relevant subjects to study.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate or an Associate's Degree

Many community colleges offer psychiatric technician certificate and associate's degree programs in mental health technology, either of which can help your job prospects. Certificate programs provide a basic level of training and explain the duties of a technician and the relationship between caregivers and patients. The program teaches you about psychopharmacology, mental disorders, crisis intervention, substance abuse, therapy and case management. Certificates may be completed in 1-2 years.

An associate's degree program in mental health technology trains you in a range of skills, including analysis, counseling, interviewing and record keeping. This prepares you to assist medical professionals with the treatment of mental patients. Courses include survey case management, general psychology, abnormal psychology, substance abuse, crisis intervention and theories of mental health. Associate's degrees are typically earned in two years.

Step 3: Complete an Internship or Practicum

An internship at a mental health facility provides you with the work experience necessary to find full-time employment. Associate's degree programs typically include an internship or practicum at a local facility that has partnered with your school.

Step 4: Consider Obtaining Certification

Certification can potentially improve your chances of finding a job, earning a promotion and commanding a higher salary. As of May 2011, the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offered four levels of voluntary certification to psychiatric technicians and other entry-level healthcare professionals. All required passage of a basic exam consisting of 201 multiple-choice questions. Levels two, three and four also required the completion of an essay exam.

In addition to the exam, level one required only a high school diploma. Level two requires at least 480 hours of postsecondary coursework in any subject and a year of work experience in the mental health field. Level three requires at least 960 hours of post-secondary education in any subject and two years of mental health work experience. A bachelor's degree in the mental health field and at least three years of related work experience are required for level four certification.

Step 5: Obtain Employment

Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals are the biggest employer of psychiatric technicians, but you can find opportunities in residential mental health facilities, physicians' offices, outpatient care centers and local government agencies as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 58,450 people worked as psychiatric technicians in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Employment was projected to grow 5% from 2014-2024. The field is expected to have 3,500 job openings during this time period due to an increased elderly population with mental illness.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few related careers include medical assistants and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), all of which require a postsecondary nondegree award. Medical assistants usually specialize in either administrative or clinical duties, depending on their place of work. Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses work with doctors and registered nurses (RNs) to provide patient care.

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