Many mental health aides only need a high school education to find employment. However, many employers prefer aides who have associate's or bachelor's degrees in a related field, such as human services. Mental health certificate programs are also available. Certificate programs typically are comprised of 17-30 credit hours. Some programs may offer courses online.
Most schools with mental health certificate programs require a high school diploma or GED certificate to enroll. Applicants need to submit ASSET or COMPASS scores. A few community colleges have no education prerequisites for those aged 18 or older. Associate's and bachelor's degree options also require a high school diploma. Bachelor's programs accept graduation from an associate's degree program, which can speed up bachelor's degree acquisition. A few schools also look at a candidate's professional experience and other extracurricular skills.
Certificate in Mental Health
Certificate programs train students broadly in all areas of inpatient mental health. Participants acquire a basic background in counseling, and the technical skills needed to provide those in need with daily living assistance. They also become aware of existing human service organizations. Students learn to assess patients, plan programs, and implement strategies. Because documentation is also an important part of the practice of mental health assistance, those interested often study communication, report formatting, and mental health terminology.
Coursework includes topics such as:
- Interview techniques and counseling methods
- Effective communication in small groups
- Preventing, managing and defusing crises situations
- Developing individualized programs
- Strategies in case management
- Issues for children and adolescents
Associate of Science in Human Services
Students acquire knowledge and skills needed for entry-level jobs as generalist human service assistants, who provide both direct and indirect client services. Training focuses on time management, interpersonal relations, and productive communications.
Associate's degree programs preparing students for mental health aide jobs include supervised fieldwork. Classroom-based work includes a general education component; core lessons discuss:
- Client and counselor relationships
- Fundamental counseling skills
- Human development and sociology
- Addiction and intervention
- Promoting health and wellness
- Psychology, abnormal and general
Bachelor of Science in Human Services
Programs prepare students for a much wider variety of jobs than just the mental health aide position. Students are trained to handle individual and interrelation problems such as juvenile delinquency or domestic abuse. Graduates are eligible for jobs in a variety of community and human services organizations. Some programs encourage students to specialize in areas such as health and social issues, families, geriatrics, children, addictions, or human development.
Required courses in a bachelor's degree program are similar to an associate's degree program. Other courses required include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cognitive/behavioral therapies
- Dynamics of family systems and statistics for analyzing groups
- Ethics in human services and public health
- Professional writing
- Working with victims of child sexual abuse
- Traits of service delivery bureaucracies
In addition to jobs as mental health aides, graduates of associate's degree in human services programs may have other job options, such as:
- Case management aide
- Community support worker
- Life skills counselor
- Social work assistant
A 5% job growth for psychiatric aides is anticipated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for the decade 2014-2024. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the annual median wage for psychiatric aides was about $26,190 (www.bls.gov).
Two active certifications may be required by employers: first aid and CPR. Employers often arrange for this training if a person does not already posses it. Most academic hours of the certificate program are transferable to either an associate's or bachelor's degree program. Majors at the degree level include psychology, social work and human services.
Some bachelor's degree programs that have a practicum every semester may prepare students to test for the Human Services - Board Certified Practitioner (HS-BCP) credential. Graduates of programs with fewer practica may need to gain more experience before they are eligible to test for the certification. Recertification is required every five years, with at least 60 clocked hours of continuing education courses during that time. Sometimes baccalaureate graduates wish to specialize further and may go on to earn a master's degree in social work or counseling.
Pursuing a certificate, associate's, or bachelor's degree in mental health or human services will teach students the necessary concepts and skills to be successful in a variety of careers in the mental health field.