Guide to a Career as a Psychiatric Technician: Jobs, Skills, Paths

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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 are mental health care professionals who work with mentally ill patients or emotionally disturbed people in health care settings such as psychiatric wards in hospitals and residential treatment centers. To gain a psychiatric technician job involves specific experience, education, and certification as well as developing a skill set through the process tailored to the role. 

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 to support at-risk patients to dress, eat, and exercise, as well as to assist with oral medication, education, and planning patient treatment. 

Psychiatric technician duties and responsibilities

As a psychiatric technician, your duties will vary according to where you work and the level you are working. In general, you will be responsible for 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 such as dressing, support to eat, washing, and 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 

Why become a psychiatric technician?

A job as a psychiatric technician can be gratifying, with excellent benefits and good career progression. Employment for psychiatric technicians is expected to grow by 11 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is higher than average [1]. 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.

Psychiatric technician qualifications and requirements

Becoming a psychiatric technician requires some essential qualifications and experience along with additional skills, experience, qualifications, and certifications that are optional but may help you stand out from other applicants. 

Associate degree

The minimum education requirement for a psychiatric technician is a high school diploma. It’s beneficial and more common to have a post-secondary or associate degree in psychiatric or mental health technology, which combines elements of psychology, biology, and counseling and includes work experience placements. Training is essential to becoming a psychiatric technician, which gives you an advantage. 

Read more: A Guide to Online Degrees

Experience in a clinical setting

Psychiatric technicians will receive on-the-job training, but you also need some kind of experience in a clinical setting. Employers welcome experience as a nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse, or an internship in the mental health field. 

CPR and BLS certificate

While not stipulated as essential to practice as a psychiatric technician, psychiatric technician jobs will require a certain level of first aid training, as the nature of the role dictates. If not listed as essential criteria for psychiatric technician roles, it can be beneficial to have Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Basic Life Support (BLS) certificates. 

A BLS certification is an excellent qualification to have if you are going into any type of care work. First aid is generally an essential criterion for a psychiatric technician role, so having this certification can help you stand out against other applicants who don’t have it. This certificate is offered by various bodies, including the Red Cross, and is valid for two years.

You can work towards an American Heart Association CPR certification or take courses available by other providers. Consider taking an online CPR course on Coursera, delivered by the University of Colorado.

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Strong communication and observational skills

Specific skills and qualities are necessary if you’re looking to pursue a career as a psychiatric technician. Leading these are strong communication skills and excellent observational skills. This role requires you to communicate with patients and care for them personally. They need to be able to trust you, and you need to be able to use active listening and negotiation skills while being compassionate and non-judgemental. 

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.

Pursue additional certifications

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. Many certifications are available, but a great place to start is with the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians' four levels of certification, allowing psychiatric technicians to demonstrate their professional abilities.

To apply for certification at level one, you must have a high school diploma. Level two requires one year of professional experience plus 480 hours of college or university courses. You can apply for level three with 960 hours of study and two years of professional experience in mental health or developmental disabilities. Lastly, to achieve level four, you need a bachelor’s degree in mental health or developmental disabilities and three years of experience in the field. 

To become certified, you'll take a series of exams. Level one is a multiple choice open book exam, and for higher levels, you must complete level one and an essay test. 

Common qualifications for psychiatric technicians

In addition to the qualifications and certifications listed above, psychiatric technicians or those looking to become one may consider the following common psychiatric technician qualifications or may have qualifications from similar backgrounds that are useful.

Licensed psychiatric technician

Most states do not require a license, but a few exceptions exist, including California, where candidates must take an exam and pay a fee to obtain a license, following an accredited education program. 

Geriatric nursing assistant

A certified geriatric nursing assistant job has some crossovers with a psychiatric technician concerning the level of personal care. Geriatric assistants support patients in dressing, washing, eating, and moving around, similar to the type of care offered by psychiatric technicians. Therefore, movement between positions is possible.

Certified nursing assistant (CNA)

As with the geriatric nursing assistant, a certified nursing assistant has similar experience and training to a psychiatric technician, without the psychiatric element. It is a solid grounding for moving into a career as a psychiatric technician. 

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.

Licensed vocational nurse (LVN)

The role of an LVN involves monitoring vital signs, providing personal care, and assisting in administering medication. The duties of an LVN are similar to a psychiatric technician. Therefore, training as an LVN offers an excellent grounding for working as a psychiatric technician. 

Licensed practical nurse (LPN)

Like a VPN or a CNA, an LPN is responsible for similar care and monitoring as a psychiatric technician, which puts them in a solid position to transition into the profession. 

First aid certification

When you work in a health care medical setting, you will inevitably experience times when you need to know first aid. 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. 

Registered nurse (RN)

Being certified as a registered nurse means you have learned much about what is covered in a psychiatric technician’s role and will have experience caring for patients in a medical setting.

Read more: What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?

Career outlook and salary information

On average, a psychiatric technician earns $36,570 per year [2]. The career outlook for a psychiatric technician is good, with a higher than average expected growth [3]. Most gain employment in hospital settings, with 38 percent in local, state, or private hospitals [4]. 

Some psychiatric technicians start as psychiatric aides, which is an entry-level position, and work their way up to psychiatric technician status. They may also begin in positions such as nursing assistant or LPN before specializing in psychiatry. 

Where do psychiatric technicians work?

You can progress in your career by gaining relevant experience and stepping up into more senior positions. It’s also possible to sidestep into other related fields with some extra training. As most colleges will transfer your associate degree course credits, you can use your education thus far to earn a bachelor’s degree in just two years. 

Job titles with similar competencies

Moving into a job in a similar field, where job descriptions and competencies have crossovers, is possible. These may include:

  • LPN and LVN:$48,897 [5

  • Medical assistant: $37,663 [6]

  • RN: $95,436 [7]

  • Childcare worker: $29,128 [8]

  • Personal care aide: $33,439 [9]

Interested in a career in psychiatry?

To learn more about what you'll experience as a psychiatric technician, a course like Psychological First Aid or Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us would be a great starting point. If you’re interested in a career in psychiatry, you can start by taking Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health offered through the University of Sydney on Coursera.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook- Psychiatric Technicians and Aides, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/psychiatric-technicians-and-aides.htm#tab-6.” Accessed June 28, 2022. 

2. 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 June 28, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook- Psychiatric Technicians and Aides- Tab 6, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/psychiatric-technicians-and-aides.htm#tab-3.” Accessed June 28, 2022.

4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook- Psychiatric Technicians and Aides- Tab 3, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/psychiatric-technicians-and-aides.htm#tab-3.” Accessed June 28, 2022.

5. Glassdoor. “LPN Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-lvn-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,6.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed June 28, 2022. 

6. Glassdoor. “Medical Assistant Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-medical-assistant-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,20.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed June 28, 2022.

7. Glassdoor. “RN Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-rn-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,5.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed June 28, 2022. 

8. Glassdoor. “ Childcare Worker Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-childcare-worker-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,19.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed June 28, 2022. 

9. Glassdoor. “ Personal Care Aide Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-personal-care-aide-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,21.htm.” Accessed June 28, 2022.

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