Psychiatric Technician: Duties, Salary and How to Become One

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Understand the role of a psychiatric technician by looking at psychiatric technician duties, qualifications, and the different paths you can take to land psychiatric technician jobs.

[Featured Image]:  A female psychiatric technician wearing a green uniform and a stethoscope around her neck, is caring for a patient in her office.

Psychiatric technicians help mentally ill patients and emotionally disturbed people in health care facilities, such as psychiatric wards in hospitals and residential treatment centers. Providing critical mental health care, psychiatric technicians help their patients perform common daily tasks like dressing and washing, and taking their medication as they complete their treatment plans.

If you're looking for a health care position that allows you to help others without going through many years of training, then you might consider a career as a psychiatric technician.

In this article, you'll learn more about what a psychiatric technician is, what they do, and how much they earn. You'll also learn what you need to do to become one and explore suggested, cost-effective courses that can help you gain the job-relevant skills and knowledge you'll need to excel in the field.

What is a psychiatric technician?

A psychiatric technician works closely with doctors and nurses to assist with observing, monitoring, and treating patients with mental illness. They are frontline workers, supervised by doctors, who are on the ground, reporting back to senior medical professionals on the day-to-day condition of patients, the effectiveness of their treatment, and any symptoms they note as important. 

Psychiatric technicians take special care of at-risk patients, helping them to dress, eat, and exercise, as well as assisting them with their oral medication, education, and treatment plan. 

What does a psychiatric technician do?

The exact duties a psychiatric technician performs will vary according to where they work, the needs of their patients, and the level they're working at. Some common responsibilities, though, include the following:

  • Observing and monitoring patients' general well-being and caring for their immediate needs while supporting independence

  • Observing behavior and symptoms in patients and reporting to senior health care professionals 

  • Interacting with patients to provide companionship

  • Providing personal care to patients, such as dressing them, helping them eat and wash, and providing basic medical care

  • Administering medications and injections, and monitoring vital signs

  • Leading group therapy sessions and rehabilitation or recreational activities

  • Supporting other health care professionals in planning patient treatment 

Psychiatric technician salary and job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychiatric technicians earned a median annual salary of $36,570 a year as of May 2021 [1]. This pay is lower than the median annual salary for all combined occupations in the United States, which the US BLS pinned at $45,760 a year during the same period.

Nonetheless, psychiatric technicians are expected to be in demand over the next decade. According to the US BLS, the number of new jobs for psychiatric technicians and aides is projected to grow by nine percent between 2021 and 2031, resulting in approximately 16,500 job openings a year throughout the decade [2]. This job growth is nearly double what the US BLS projects for all combined occupations during the same period.

Read more: Is Health Care a Good Career Path? Outlook, Jobs, and More

Where do psychiatric technicians work?

Psychiatric technicians work in a variety of health care settings. While most work in local, state, or private hospitals, others find employment within state governments or mental health and substance abuse facilities [4]. 

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Why become a psychiatric technician?

A job as a psychiatric technician can be gratifying and set you up for a long-term career in health care. Some motivation and rewards for a career as a psychiatric technician include the following.

Allows you to help others

Being a front-line worker means you get to know and understand patients on a human level. You get to see their development, understand their needs and motivations, and contribute to treatment programs in a way that other medical professionals who are not with patients day to day cannot. A hands-on approach means you directly impact people’s lives and can see the benefits, which can be very gratifying. 

Helps you establish yourself in a specialist health career

Taking the route into a health career through the role of a psychiatric technician means you have specialist skills and experience that other health care professionals don’t have. While there are some crossovers with different care roles, having experience with psychiatric patients means you are in a specialist position and better placed to continue in this line of work. 

Allows you to build experience

A psychiatric technician job is a great start if you’re looking to progress your career in health care. It adds a specialist element that you can use as a stepping stone to other opportunities in psychiatry, nursing, or related careers in psychology, sociology, or special education.

You also have opportunities for growth by progressing to senior staff members through additional education, certifications, and experience.

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How to become a psychiatric technician

To become a psychiatric technician, you'll need to meet the required educational qualifications and gain the experience and skills needed to thrive on the job. If you're interested in joining the field, then here's what you need to know to get started:

1. Meet the educational requirements.

At a minimum, you must possess a high school diploma or GED to become a psychiatric technician. Typically, though, you must also possess a postsecondary certificate, such as those provided by the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT), or an associate degree in psychiatry or mental health technology. The exact educational requirements vary from one state to another, so make sure to check with your state authority or potential employer to make sure you have obtained all educational requirements.

Read more: Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider

2. Gain the right work experience.

As a psychiatric technician, you'll receive short-term on-the-job training to ensure that you can help your patients as much as possible. Nonetheless, many employers will likely prefer candidates with prior clinical work as a nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse, or an internship in the mental health field. 

3. Consider CPR and BLS certification.

While not stipulated as essential to practice as a psychiatric technician, it can be beneficial to have Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Basic Life Support (BLS) certificates. 

First aid is generally an essential criterion for a psychiatric technician role, so having either or both of these certifications can help you stand out against other applicants who don’t have them. Two common certification providers include the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Red Cross.

4. Develop your communication and observational skills.

To excel as a psychiatric technician, you'll need to have strong communication and observational skills.

In your day-to-day role, you'll be tasked with personally caring for mentally-ill patients who require patience, empathy, and understanding as they undergo psychiatric treatment. As a result, you'll need to develop trusting relationships with patients, predicated on active listening, effective communication, and non-judgment.

Observation of patients is one of the critical parts of the role of a psychiatric technician. As well as monitoring vital signs, this job requires observing behavior and noticing any new symptoms or signs of distress that may harm the patient or others.

5. Obtain your license.

Most states don't require psychiatric technicians to be licensed, but some (like California) do.

If you're in a state that requires licensure, then you'll need to acquire your psychiatric technician license before you can work professionally. To obtain your license, you must take an accredited psychiatric technician program, pass a qualifying exam, and pay a license fee.

Common psychiatric technician certifications and qualifications

Holding additional qualifications as well as an associate degree, experience, and in some states, gaining a license is beneficial to the recruitment process. The more you can offer, the more you stand out against other candidates. Here are some of the certifications and qualifications you may consider obtaining as a psychiatric technician:

  • American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT) certification: The AAPT offers four levels of certification, each describing an increasingly higher level of experience and qualification. While you only need a high school diploma or GED to acquire level 1 certification, higher levels require a set number of college credit hours to qualify for the certification.

  • First aid certification: Having a first aid certification can be helpful in showing employers that you commit to professional development. Certification is available from a variety of organizations. When choosing one that suits you, make sure it is a credible source, such as the Red Cross, National Safety Council, or National CPR Foundation. 

  • AHA certification: The American Heart Association (AHA) offers CPR, ECC, and first aid certifications. AHA are world leaders in their field, so their certificates are highly regarded.

Read more: How to List Certifications on Your Resume: Guide + Examples

Interested in a career in psychiatry?

A career as a psychiatric technician offers the chance to help some of the most vulnerable and in-need people. If you're interested in starting a career in the field, then you might consider taking a flexible, cost-effective course through Coursera.

In Johns Hopkins' Psychological First Aid, you'll learn to provide psychological first aid to people in an emergency by employing the RAPID model: Reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition.

In the University of Pennsylvania's Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us, meanwhile, you'll explore the anatomy and physiology underlying the vital signs so that you will develop a systematic, integrated understanding of how the body functions.

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Article sources

1

 US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook- Psychiatric Technicians and Aides- Tab 5, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/psychiatric-technicians-and-aides.htm#tab-5.” Accessed January 18, 2023.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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