Pros and Cons of a Behavioral Health Technician Career
Behavioral health technicians, also known as psychiatric technicians, work under the supervision of doctors or nurses who provide care to patients with mental or behavioral disorders. Before settling on becoming a behavioral health technician, research what you can expect from this career so you can make an informed decision.
|Pros of a Behavioral Health Technician Career|
|Minimal education requirements*|
|Greater need for technicians expected as health insurance coverage expands and more mental health patients get insured*|
|Jobs available in various work environments (hospitals, military treatment centers, jails, substance abuse centers)**|
|National certification available with minimal training and experience**|
|Can be a rewarding job helping those in need*|
|Cons of a Behavioral Health Technician Career|
|Higher than average work-related injury rate*|
|Lower than average salary (approximately $35,000 mean annual wage as of May 2014)*|
|Stressful or unpleasant duties (changing bedpans, dealing with uncooperative patients)*|
|Work hours typically include nights, weekends and holidays*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association of Psychiatric Technicians
Job Description and Duties
As mental health care professionals, behavioral health technicians provide auxiliary support to patients' primary care providers. They observe how patients respond to treatments and report findings to the appropriate personnel. Additional responsibilities may depend on the behavioral health technician's level of education and experience.
As an entry-level behavioral health technician, some of your duties can include helping patients to eat, dress and perform basic living tasks. You might also help patients with their basic hygiene routines. Changing bed linens and bed pans and tending to patient requests are also typical daily tasks. With sufficient education and experience, you may take on more responsibility by helping evaluate patients, developing and executing treatments, administering medication and partaking in therapy sessions.
Career Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 4% employment growth for psychiatric technicians from 2012-2022. Contributing to this growth rate is an increasing elderly population that's more susceptible to cognitive mental conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, more psychiatric technicians will be employed in residential centers, which are less costly than hospitals and allow greater self-sufficiency for patients. As of May 2014, there were 64,540 psychiatric technicians nationwide who earned a mean salary of about $35,000, reported the BLS.
What Are the Requirements?
Education and Training
Behavioral health technicians usually need to acquire necessary skills and knowledge through a postsecondary program, according to the BLS. Psychiatric technician programs are available at several community colleges, technical institutes and universities. Certificates and associate degrees are the most common credentials awarded, although a few universities offer bachelor's degrees. Students in these training programs participate in classroom instruction and clinical training, which provides the experience that many employers require.
After securing employment, you most likely will complete on-the-job training that can last from a few weeks to several months. As of 2011, Arkansas, California, Colorado and Kansas mandate licensure for psychiatric technicians. Requirements vary by state, but applicants usually need to complete a minimum amount of education and an exam.
In addition to training, experience and licensure requirements, employers also seek candidates who exhibit key personal traits. Since behavioral health technicians have constant interaction with patients and healthcare personnel, they need to have good communication skills. They should also be compassionate and tolerant due to the emotionally taxing nature of working with mentally ill patients. Furthermore, endurance benefits behavioral health technicians who spend most of their time standing and moving patients around.
What Are Employers Looking For?
Although on-the-job training is common, employers prefer applicants who have some postsecondary training and clinical experience. Many job postings for these professionals indicate what employers are looking for. Here are some examples of job postings from March 2012:
- A health clinic in Mississippi is seeking a behavioral health technician to monitor and assist with therapeutic patient activities in outpatient clinics and programs. Qualified candidates need either certification from the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT), a practical or vocational nursing license or a psychiatric technician military certification.
- A medical center in Virginia is looking for a behavioral health technician with good judgment and crisis intervention skills who can restrain patients and prevent potentially harmful situations. Applicants need at least one year of relevant experience and either AAPT certification, a practical or vocational nurse license or a bachelor's degree in psychology or social work.
- A health clinic in Texas wants a behavioral health technician with fundamental knowledge of psychotropic medications, including proper dosage and side effects. Eligibility requirements include an associate or bachelor's degree in psychology, sociology or a related behavioral sciences field and one year of relevant professional experience.
How to Stand Out
Obtaining voluntary certification is one way psychiatric technicians can validate their expertise. The AAPT stated that acquiring certification is an effective way to validate education and experience criteria, especially in states where licensing isn't mandated. AAPT-certified professionals can use the Nationally Certified Psychiatric Technician (NCPT) designation, which may result in higher salaries and advancement opportunities.
The AAPT offers four levels of voluntary national certification based on education and experience. Level one is granted to those with a high school diploma or GED. Professionals with a relevant bachelor's degree and at least three years of practical experience may qualify for level four certification. State certification boards may also offer certification exams; you usually need to meet minimum education and experience requirements in order to qualify. Typically, continuing education is necessary to keep certifications valid.
Acquire Volunteer Experience
Since the BLS reported that behavioral health technicians should be caring and have a desire to help people, you can prove to employers that you possess these qualities through volunteer work. Hospitals, nursing homes and other care-related organizations may offer volunteer opportunities where you provide services to people in need. Although acquiring volunteer experience can help you stand out to employers, it most likely won't substitute for the clinical experience required by many employers.
Alternative Career Paths
If you want a job where you can help others but don't want to work in a medical environment, a social service assistant position may be right for you. These professionals assist social workers who help community members receive assistance services. They often work in offices, group homes and shelters. A high school diploma is the minimum education required, although the BLS reported that some employers prefer candidates with a certificate or associate degree in a related field. BLS 2010-2020 employment projections show that the number of working social service assistants may grow 28%. As the elderly population continues to expand, their need for assistance services will keep these professionals in demand. Social service assistants earned an average salary of approximately $31,000, according to May 2011 BLS data.
If you'd like to stay in the medical field but want to earn more money, consider a registered nurse (RN) career. May 2011 BLS data indicated that RNs earned an average salary of about $69,000. Employment in this field is expected to grow 26% from 2010-2020, which is faster than average. RNs also have several places they can acquire employment, many of which are similar to behavioral health technicians' work environments, such as hospitals, treatment centers, military clinics and jails. Diploma, associate and bachelor's programs are available for aspiring RNs, but those with a bachelor's degree may have the best opportunities available to them.