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.
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.