Mental Health Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
What are the pros and cons of becoming a mental health technician? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a mental health technician is right for you.
View available schools

Becoming a Mental Health Technician: Pros and Cons

Mental health technicians assist patients who have a variety of mental health problems - from traumatic brain injuries to developmental disabilities - in both clinical and therapeutic settings. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons for this career.

Pros of Becoming a Mental Health Technician
Satisfaction from helping improve the mental health of others*
Full-time employment typical (40 hours per week)**
Vital member of the medical team**
Certificate programs can be completed in two years or less*

Cons of Becoming a Mental Health Technician
High injury rate due to physically strenuous job (i.e. lifting patients)*
Nights, weekends and holiday shifts common*
Risk of patients becoming violent*
Some positions require bachelor's degree***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association of Psychiatric Technicians, ***Eating Recovery Center.

Career Information

Job Description

Mental health technicians, also known as psychiatric technicians, are important members of a healthcare team who treat mentally ill or developmentally disabled patients. As a mental health technician, you may be responsible for performing basic nursing tasks, such as monitoring vital signs, administering medications and assisting patients with personal hygiene.

You may also admit and interview patients, keep records of patient conditions and help design and implement treatment plans. Mental health technicians often interact with patients more regularly than other staff members, and can therefore have a significant impact. They are employed in places such as mental treatment facilities, prisons, hospitals, geriatric facilities and military psychiatric facilities.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

In May 2014, the meanannual salary of mental health technicians was $35,160, according to the BLS. Employment opportunities for mental health technicians were expected to increase by 5% between 2012 and 2022, which was about as slower than the average for all occupations. The BLS also stated that there is a long-term trend towards non-hospital based treatment due to the fact that it allows patients more freedom and is more cost effective. Therefore, jobs are likely to be available in residential treatment facilities.

What Are the Requirements?

To become a mental health technician, you'll likely need a certificate or associate's degree in psychiatric or mental health technology. Such educational programs can be found at technical schools and community colleges. Coursework may include biology, medical terminology, counseling, pharmacology, human development and psychology. Programs generally include supervised work experience. You can complete a mental health technology program in anywhere from one semester to two years, depending on the program. However, you may need a bachelor's degree in psychology or sociology to secure some positions.

On-the-job training may also be needed before you can begin working without supervision. As a trainee, you'd work under the supervision of an experienced mental health technician and may also attend lectures and workshops. This training may last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Licensure and National Certification

As of 2011, California, Kansas, Arkansas and Colorado are the only states that require mental health technicians to be licensed in order to practice. The specific requirements for licensure vary with each state, but you'll usually need to pass an exam after graduating from an accredited program. In states that don't require you to have a license, you can elect to earn national certification through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians.

Job Posts from Real Employers

Mental health technicians may find employment in a variety of settings and with various populations. The following job postings from April 2012 show some of the skills and educational requirements employers are looking for.

  • A recovery center in Denver, Colorado, that specializes in treating people with eating disorders is looking for a psychiatric technician with a bachelor's degree in psychology or sociology. Job duties include assisting with snacks and meals, leading groups and eating with patients to demonstrate healthy behavior. Though not required, a master's degree is preferred.
  • A healthcare organization in Salt Lake City, Utah, needs a psychiatric technician to help with basic nursing care, such as leading conversation groups and activities. The technician will assist with observing and documenting patient behavior, assessing new patients and taking vital signs. A bachelor's or associate's degree is required, but the equivalent number of years of experience may also be accepted. A basic life support card is also required.
  • A residential treatment facility for special needs children and adolescents in California is searching for a licensed psychiatric technician with at least two years of related experience. Processing psychotropic medication authorizations, administering medications and scheduling psychiatric appointments are just some of the listed job duties.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

While enrolled in your mental health technology program, you can gain relevant experience by working as a mental health aide. Many aide positions only require a high school diploma, according to the BLS. This may help you secure a mental health technician job after you graduate since many employers request previous related experience. Another way you can prepare for a job is to obtain a basic life support card or CPR certification while still in school since these may be required by your employer.

Develop Related Skills

You can also help give yourself an employment edge by developing certain skills considered valuable in this field. Courses in communication or speech can assist you in building the listening and speaking skills needed to interact with patients. Many jobs require mental health technicians to keep electronic records or perform other tasks utilizing a computer and software programs; therefore, taking computer classes may be wise. Completing accounting courses may help your resume shine as well, since technicians may be responsible for billing duties. Lastly, staying physically fit can be particularly beneficial in this highly active line of work, especially since you may need to react quickly to uncooperative, unpredictable or aggressive patients.

Alternative Career Options

If becoming a mental health technician doesn't sound like the perfect match for you, there are other career options that involve some of the same skills or duties. The following are just a couple alternative career choices.

Social and Human Service Assistant

As a social and human service assistant, you can still have a career helping people in need. However, instead of performing clinical duties, you'd help people find programs and services to help improve their situations. Under the supervision of psychologists or social workers, you could work with the elderly, children, veterans, immigrants, the homeless, people suffering from mental illness and more.

The BLS says that entry-level employment may be found with just a high school diploma, but some employers do prefer to hire those with additional education or experience. Certificate or associate's programs in a social science, behavioral science or human services can be beneficial in securing a job. However, pay is not very high in this field - the BLS reported that the annual median salary was $29,000 in May 2011. On the other hand, job growth was expected to increase faster than average for all occupations, at a rate of 28% between 2010 and 2020.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse

As a psychiatric-mental health nurse (PMHN), you'd perform clinical duties as mental health technicians do, but you'd have more responsibility. You may be responsible for planning, implementing and evaluating treatment for patients with varying degrees of mental illnesses. Employment can be found with a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in registered nursing. You'd also need to become licensed. However, if you go for a master's degree, you could become a psychiatric-mental health advanced practice registered nurse, or PMH-APRN. In this position, you are able to make diagnoses and prescribe medications to patients.

All registered nurses made a median annual salary of $66,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS. Job growth for all nurses was expected to increase by 26% between 2010 and 2020, which was considered faster than average for all occupations. On the downside, you may have to work long or irregular hours as a nurse.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
      • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder
    Certificate
      • Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate
      • Autism Spectrum Disorder Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Georgetown University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Finance
      • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
      • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate
  • Online Programs Available
    3. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Economics
      • Master of Public Administration and Policy
      • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Agile Project Management
      • Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Analytics and Management
      • Graduate Certificate in Project Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Communication
      • Master of Science in Education in Special Education
      • Master of Science in Engineering Technology
      • Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management
      • Master of Science in Education in Learning Design and Technology
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Seton Hall University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Accounting
      • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management
      • Master of Business Administration
      • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance
      • Master of Business Administration - Marketing
    Certificate
      • Certificate: Post Conflict State Reconstruction and Sustainability
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Liberal Arts
      • Master of Arts in Science Writing
      • Master of Science in Applied Economics
      • Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems
      • Master of Science in Bioinformatics
    Certificate
      • Certificate in Government Analytics
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication
      • MS in Food Safety Regulation
      • Certificate in Science Writing
      • Certificate in Science, Technology, and International Security Studies
      • Post-Master's Certificate in Sequence Analysis and Genomics
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
      • Master of Project Management
      • Master of Finance
      • Master of Professional Accounting
      • Master - Information Technology Management
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Communication
      • BS - Human Services
      • BS - Accounting
      • BS - Project Management
      • BS - Marketing
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate - Human Resource Management
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Project Management
      • Graduate Specialization - Accounting
      • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security
  • Online Programs Available
    8. The University of Scranton

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Accounting
      • MBA - Healthcare Management
      • MBA - Human Resources
      • MBA - International Business
      • MBA - Operations Management
      • Master of Accountancy
    Certificate
      • Executive Certificate in Health Administration
      • Health Informatics Certificate
      • Enterprise Resource Planning Certificate
      • Supply Chain Management Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    9. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS in Health Care Quality
      • Masters in Interdisciplinary Secondary Transition Services
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Technology Leadership
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Organizational Leadership and Learning
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality
      • Graduate Certificate in Multimedia Development
      • Graduate Certificate in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
      • Graduate Certificate in Transition Special Education
      • Education Specialist in Educational Leadership and Administration
      • Graduate Certificate in E-Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • DBA - Management
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    Master's
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
      • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
      • BS in Applied Management
      • BS in Psychology
      • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • BS in Accounting
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in GeroPsychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Industrial and Organizational Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Forensic Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Health Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Human Factors Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Life Coaching

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
  • Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder Certificate

What is your highest level of education?

Georgetown University

  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
  • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

What is your highest level of education completed?

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Graduate Certificate in Agile Project Management
  • Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Analytics and Management

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication
  • Master of Science in Education in Special Education
  • Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication Management

What is your highest level of education?

Seton Hall University

  • Master of Science in Accounting
  • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management
  • Certificate: Post Conflict State Reconstruction and Sustainability

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Certificate in Government Analytics
  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • BS - Communication
  • Graduate Certificate - Human Resource Management

What is your highest level of education?

The University of Scranton

  • MBA - Accounting
  • MBA - Healthcare Management
  • Executive Certificate in Health Administration
  • Health Informatics Certificate

What is your highest level of education?