Psychiatric Assistant Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

Psychiatric assistants, also referred to as psychiatric aides or psychiatric technicians, provide care for mentally ill individuals under the supervision of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. Some individuals complete on-the-job training, but most enroll in a Psychiatric Technician Certificate program or an Associate of Science in Psychiatric Technology program for training.

Essential Information

Several states require that psychiatric assistants be licensed, usually by passing a state board exam after completing a certificate or associate's degree program. Many certificate programs are designed to meet a particular state's training requirements. These programs take about a year to complete and call for classroom courses and clinical experiences in a mental health facility. Students learn about mental illness, assessments and maintaining medical records.

In an associate's degree program, which calls for two years of study, students complete general education courses in addition to learning to care for the mentally ill. Courses include abnormal psychology, pharmacology and working with medical-surgical patients. A clinical component gives students hands-on experience. Entrance into these programs requires CPR certification.

  • Program Levels in Psychiatric Technology: Certificate, Associate's degree.
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED, CPR certification.
  • Program Length: 1-2 years.
  • Other Requirements: An internship or practicum may be required.

Psychiatric Technician Certificate

Psychiatric technician certificate programs are most commonly offered by 2-year community colleges and take about one year to complete. They are often designed with curriculum that meets the licensure requirements of a particular state, such as California's Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians. Students complete both theoretical and clinical courses, and learn how to administer treatment and provide care to mentally ill individuals in hospitals and long-term nursing care facilities.

Psychiatric technician certificate programs are open to any student who is 18 years old and has a high school diploma. Students must also often submit to a physical examination at least a year prior to starting clinical courses, and should be CPR certified.

The courses included within a psychiatric technician certificate program cover theories of mental illness as well as some clinical nursing skills. Some examples of such courses include:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • General psychology
  • Mental health and psychiatric nursing
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Medical records
  • Medical terminology

Associate of Science in Psychiatric Technology

An associate's degree program for aspiring psychiatric technicians contains many of the same core courses and clinical components as a certificate program. Students enrolled in a 2-year associate's degree program are also required to complete general education requirements. They also spend more seminar hours studying general psychology, abnormal psychology, human growth and development, pharmacology and human nutrition.

Some community colleges offering associate's degree programs for psychiatric technicians require incoming students to complete certain courses before they begin the program. These often include introductory courses in psychology and anatomy. Students must also have a high school diploma and CPR certification.

Associate's degree programs for aspiring psychiatric aides and assistants should prepare students for hands-on, clinical experience and licensure examinations. Some courses commonly found in such a program might include:

  • Introduction to psychiatric technology
  • Pharmacology
  • Nursing medical-surgical patients
  • General psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Care of the mentally disabled

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 72,860 psychiatric aides held positions in the country in 2014. These individuals often worked for psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, residential mental health facilities and general hospitals. Psychiatric aides earned a median annual salary of $26,220 in 2014, according to the BLS.

Certification and Continuing Education

The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers voluntary national certification to professionals in the field. Some states have their own licensure requirements, and require psychiatric technicians and aides to submit to additional examinations given by state boards of vocational nursing and psychiatric technicians.

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