Psychiatric technicians and aides

What Psychiatric Technicians and Aides Do

Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe, clean environment.

Duties

Psychiatric technicians, sometimes called mental health technicians, typically do the following:

  • Observe patients’ behavior, listen to their concerns, and record their condition
  • Lead patients in therapeutic and recreational activities
  • Give medications and other treatments to patients, following instructions from doctors and other medical professionals
  • Help with admitting and discharging patients
  • Monitor patients’ vital signs, such as their blood pressure
  • Help patients with activities of daily living, including eating and bathing
  • Restrain patients who may become physically violent

Psychiatric aides typically do the following:

  • Monitor patients’ behavior and location in a mental healthcare facility
  • Help patients with their daily living activities, such as bathing or dressing
  • Serve meals and help patients eat
  • Keep facilities clean by doing tasks such as changing bed linens
  • Participate in group activities, such as playing sports or going on field trips
  • Help transport patients within a hospital or residential care facility
  • Restrain patients who may become physically violent

Many psychiatric technicians and aides work with patients who are severely developmentally disabled and need intensive care. Others work with patients undergoing rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction. The work of psychiatric technicians and aides varies depending on the types of patients they work with.

Psychiatric technicians and aides work as part of a medical team, under the direction of physicians and alongside other healthcare professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, counselors, and therapists. For more information on the counselors and therapists they may work with, see the profiles on substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists.

Because they have such close contact with patients, psychiatric technicians and aides can have a great deal of influence on patients' outlook and treatment.

How to Become a Psychiatric Technician or Aide

Psychiatric technicians typically need postsecondary education, and aides need at least a high school diploma. Both technicians and aides receive on-the-job training.

Education

Psychiatric technicians typically enter the occupation with a postsecondary certificate. Programs in psychiatric or mental health technology are commonly offered by community colleges and technical schools.

Psychiatric technician programs include courses in biology, psychology, and counseling. The programs also may include supervised work experience or cooperative programs, in which students gain academic credit for structured work experience.

Programs for psychiatric technicians range in length from 1 semester to 2 years, and they may award a certificate or an associate’s degree.

Psychiatric aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. Postsecondary courses in psychology or mental health technology may be helpful.

Training

Psychiatric technicians and aides typically participate in a short period of on-the-job training before they can work without direct supervision.

Training may include working with patients while under the close supervision of an experienced technician or aide. Technicians and aides may also attend workshops, lectures, or in-service training.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Because psychiatric technicians and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients, they should be caring and want to help people.

Interpersonal skills. Psychiatric technicians and aides often provide ongoing care for patients, so they should be able to develop a rapport with patients, making them better able to treat their patients and evaluate their condition.

Observational skills. Technicians must watch patients closely and be sensitive to any changes in behavior. For their safety and that of their patients, they must recognize signs of discomfort or trouble among patients.

Patience. Working with the mentally ill can be emotionally challenging. Psychiatric technicians and aides must be able to stay calm in stressful situations.

Physical stamina. Psychiatric technicians and aides must be able to lift, move, and sometimes restrain patients. They must also be able to spend much of their time on their feet.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In 2013, four states—Arkansas, California, Colorado, and Kansas—required licensure of psychiatric technicians. Although specific requirements vary, states usually require psychiatric technicians to complete an accredited education program, pass an exam, and pay a fee to be licensed.

Psychiatric aides are not required to be licensed.

The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers four levels of certification for psychiatric technicians. The certifications allow technicians to show a high level of professional competency. Requirements vary by certification.

Job Outlook

Psychiatric Technicians and Aides

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Psychiatric aides

6%

Psychiatric technicians and aides

5%

Psychiatric technicians

4%

 

Employment of psychiatric technicians is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment of psychiatric aides is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

As the nation’s population ages and people live longer, there is likely to be an increase in the number of older men and women with cognitive mental diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Demand for psychiatric technicians and aides in residential facilities are expected to rise as a result. In addition, the aging prison population has increased the need for psychiatric technicians and aides in correctional facilities.

More psychiatric technicians and aides will be needed in residential treatment facilities and in outpatient care centers for people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and substance abuse problems. There is a long-term trend toward treating psychiatric patients in community-based settings rather than in hospitals. These settings allow patients greater independence, and they are often more cost-effective.

Federal health legislation will expand the number of patients who have access to health insurance, increasing patient access to medical care. Federal health insurance reform will expand coverage of mental health disorders to millions of people, and more technicians and aides will be needed to provide mental health services.

Employment projections data for Psychiatric Technicians and Aides, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Psychiatric technicians and aides

153,000 160,600 5 7,600

Psychiatric technicians

29-2053 71,000 73,800 4 2,800

Psychiatric aides

31-1013 82,000 86,800 6 4,900
  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. '

Postsecondary non-degree award $41,540
Medical assistants Medical assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.'

Postsecondary non-degree award $29,370
Occupational therapy assistants and aides Occupational therapy assistants and aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients, while occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.'

Associate's degree $48,940
Registered nurses Registered nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.'

Associate's degree $65,470
Social and human service assistants Social and human service assistants

Social and human service assistants help people get through difficult times or get additional support. They assist other workers, such as social workers, and they help clients find benefits or community services.'

High school diploma or equivalent $28,850
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