How to Become a Psychiatric Technician: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a psychiatric technician. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in mental health.

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Psychiatric Technicians

Psychiatric technicians provide hands-on care for people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses. This might include administering medications, conducting recreational and therapeutic activities, and monitoring patients' vital signs. Although some employers use the titles psychiatric technician and psychiatric aide interchangeably, there are key differences between these careers. A psychiatric aide typically helps patients perform activities of daily living and ensures that their environment is clean and safe, while a psychiatric technician provides therapeutic care.

Many psychiatric technicians and aides are employed by hospitals. Positions are available in long-term care centers and other medical care settings. Some risk is associated with this career, as technicians and aides care for individuals who may become emotionally agitated and physically aggressive. As with all careers in medical care settings, some exposure to infectious diseases is possible. Technicians and aides may work part-time to full-time, including evening, night, and weekend shifts for those employed by 24-hour care centers.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Certificate or associate's degree
Degree Field Psychiatric or mental health technology
Licensure and Certification Licensure required in some states; optional certification available
Experience None but often preferred
Key Skills Excellent interpersonal and communication skills; ability to stay patient and calm while working with patients; empathy and compassion; ability to lift and move patients and heavy objects; CPR certified
Salary $31,140 (2015 median)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job postings (August 2012)

Aspiring psychiatric technicians need a certificate or an associate's degree in psychiatric or mental health technology and some employers prefer candidates with previous experience. Licensure is required in some states and optional certification available. Certification in CPR is also needed. Psychiatric technicians need excellent interpersonal and communication skills. These professionals should display empathy and compassion, and they should be able to stay patient and calm while working with patients. Additionally, they should be able to lift and move patients and heavy objects. According to 2015 data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for psychiatric technicians was $31,140.

Become a Psychiatric Technician

Step 1: Complete a Certificate Program

A postsecondary certificate in mental health or psychiatric technology is needed to pursue employment in this career field. Technical schools and community colleges that offer these programs typically require students to complete courses in counseling, biology, psychology and pharmacology. These courses instruct students on the basic principles of psychiatric care and the symptoms and interventions needed for various psychiatric disorders. Some programs provide students with the opportunity to participate in internships or other supervised clinical experiences, which allow them to work alongside professionals in the field and develop the skills necessary to succeed in this career.

Since many employers prefer applicants with previous experience, aspiring psychiatric technicians should take advantage of internships or fieldwork experiences offered through their certificate program. There are typically many volunteer or paid positions in a variety of mental health settings that will allow students to familiarize themselves with the job duties of a psychiatric technician, while also gaining beneficial work experience.

Step 2: Become a Credentialed Psychiatric Technician

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California, Kansas, Colorado and Arkansas require psychiatric technicians to be licensed. This typically involves graduating from an accredited program, passing an examination and paying licensing fees. In states where licensure is not required, psychiatric technicians might choose to pursue voluntary certification through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians. Individuals pursuing certification must pass a multiple-choice exam.

Step 3: Complete On-The-Job Training

Many employers require psychiatric technicians to complete on-the-job training before they are allowed to work independently. The amount of time spent in training can vary from a few weeks to several months. Psychiatric technicians typically participate in a variety of training exercises during this time, including attending lectures, workshops and/or in-service training, and receiving direct training from experienced professionals.

Step 4: Advance in the Field

Psychiatric technicians who gain many years of experience may be able to advance to a higher rank, such as a supervisory position. Technicians who are truly passionate about psychiatry and who desire to move beyond administering therapeutic care should consider obtaining a medical degree in psychiatry or a related field. The process takes many years of various schooling levels, starting with a bachelor's degree, but many undergraduate programs will often accept courses taken at a technical school or community college as credit towards a degree.

Aspiring psychiatric technicians need at least an undergraduate certificate in psychiatric or mental health technology, and licensure is required in a few states.

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