Pros and Cons of Becoming a Psychiatric Technician
Psychiatric technicians work closely with patients who suffer from mental illnesses, addictions and developmental disabilities. If you're interested in becoming a psychiatric technician, please continue reading in order to learn about the pros and cons associated with this career.
|Pros of Being a Psychiatric Technician|
|Opportunity to make an impact on the lives of mentally ill or disabled patients*|
|Health legislation to increase need for psychiatric technicians over the 2012-2022 decade*|
|Minimal education required (only postsecondary certificate and on-the-job training)*|
|Full- and part-time work schedules are available*|
|Cons of Being a Psychiatric Technician|
|May need to work nights, weekends and holidays*|
|Patients may be uncooperative and violent*|
|Relatively low salary ($35,000 average annual wage in May 2014)*|
|Workers in this field have a relatively high rate of injury due to physical tasks, such as lifting patients*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Essential Career Information
Job Description and Duties
Psychiatric technicians work as members of medical teams, providing care and therapy for psychiatric patients. As a psychiatric technician, you can work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as psychiatric hospitals, residential mental health facilities and alcohol or drug treatment centers. Your duties will include guiding patients through therapeutic activities and helping them with basic daily functions, such as bathing and eating.
In order to give patients the best care possible, you'll observe their behavior, make records of their conditions and listen to their concerns. You may also monitor vital signs and administer the medications and treatments prescribed by physicians. You'll interact with a variety of other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, therapists and psychiatric nurses.
Job Growth and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the mean annual wage of psychiatric technicians was just over $35,000 in May 2014. Between 2012 and 2022, job growth was expected to rise by 4%. While this employment growth is slower than average when compared to all occupations, as federal health legislation expands the number of patients with health insurance, employers are expected to seek more psychiatric technicians (www.bls.gov).
Education and Training Requirements
Most psychiatric technicians attend postsecondary institutions that offer programs in mental health or psychiatric technology. These programs may last between one semester and two years, resulting in a certificate or associate's degree. While enrolled, you'll study topics in psychology, counseling and biology. Programs may also offer structured work experience opportunities where you can gain valuable practical knowledge of the field.
After graduating from your program, you'll still need to participate in on-the-job training before you can work without supervision. This training can last several weeks or several months. In general, the following skills and talents are needed to be successful in this field:
- Compassion and forbearance when interacting with patients
- The ability to lift heavy objects and move patients
- A practical understanding of psychology
- The ability to work as a member of a team
- The ability to make reports and remain organized
As of 2011, psychiatric technicians were required to be licensed in Arkansas, California, Colorado and Kansas. Each state has different requirements for licensure; typically, you'll need to pay a licensing fee, pass an examination and complete an accredited education program. Some postsecondary programs in states that require licensure may prepare students for licensing examinations.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Employers across the nation are seeking qualified psychiatric technicians. Employers typically require both formal education and work experience, although some may be willing to substitute certain experience requirements with educational accomplishments, and vice versa. In order to get a better sense of the kinds of jobs available to psychiatric technicians, see the following examples of real job postings that were open in May 2012:
- A hospital in Washington, D.C., was seeking a psychiatric technician to work in the psychiatric unit. This position required working on-call hours. Candidates were required to have a high school diploma, one year of clinical experience in a psychiatric facility and a current CPR certification. One year of college education was preferred. Job duties included assisting RNs in delivering care to patients with mental and emotional ailments.
- A juvenile treatment facility in Indiana was seeking a full-time psychiatric technician. This employer required candidates to pass a background check and have at least one year of relevant work experience. Job duties included preparing documentation and reports related to patient care, performing case management services and assisting in planning goals for the mental health department.
- An academic healthcare system in Utah was hiring a psychiatric technician for full-time work. This employer required candidates to have either a bachelor's degree, four years of work experience or an associate's degree plus two years of work experience. Candidates with basic life support cards were preferred. Job duties included observing patients, composing documentation, assisting with supportive therapy and educating co-workers.
How to Stand out in the Field
While many workers in this field hold certificates from postsecondary institutions, you can stand out by earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in psychiatric technology or a mental health field. While earning your degree, you could take a wide range of courses and seek opportunities to gain experience, such as by participating in internships. Since some employers require a degree or work experience, this may allow you to be better qualified for entry-level positions.
Even if your state does not require licensure, you may earn voluntary certification from the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT). The AAPT offers four levels of certification, which require varying levels of education. Level one certification requires a high school diploma or a GED. Level two certification requires at least one year of work experience in the mental health or developmental disabilities field and the completion of 480 hours of university or college courses of any type. Level three requires at least two years of relevant work experience and 960 hours of university or college courses of any type. Finally, level four requires a bachelor's degree in a developmental disabilities or mental health field in addition to three years of relevant work experience. Once you meet the certification prerequisites, you must pass the required examinations. According to the AAPT, certification may lead to higher salaries and opportunities to get promoted.
Alternative Career Paths
Personal Care Aide
If you feel passionate about working with individuals who are disabled or ill but prefer not to work with psychiatric patients, you may enjoy a career as a personal care aide. Personal care aides help individuals who suffer from disabilities, chronic illnesses and cognitive impairments. They assist clients in daily activities, such as eating, shopping, planning schedules, dressing and doing laundry. While there are no mandatory educational requirements for becoming a personal care aide, most have a high school education.
Aides that work for agencies that receive reimbursement from Medicaid or Medicare must receive a minimal level of training and either receive state certification or pass a competency evaluation. In May 2011, the mean annual wage of personal care aides was about $21,000. The BLS reports that between 2010 and 2020, job growth for personal care aids was expected to grow by 70%, which is much faster that average among all occupations.
If you enjoy working with a wide variety of patients suffering from various physical and mental ailments, then you may wish to become a medical assistant. Medical assistants perform clinical and administrative tasks in the offices of health care practitioners and other healthcare facilities. They assist physicians with patient examinations, take vital signs, administer injections, prepare blood for laboratory tests and schedule appointments for patients.
Formal education is not required, and you can learn the skills needed for the job through on-the-job training. While certification is not required, it is preferred by many employers. The BLS found that in May 2011, the mean annual wage for medical assistants was around $30,000. Between 2010 and 2020, employment in this field was expected to grow by 31%, which is much faster than average.