Psychiatric Aide Career Guide

The Basics

For many people with a psychological or behavioral problem, life is simply too much to manage on their own. Whether they suffer from schizophrenia or a personality disorder, depression or mania, or have a cognitive deficit, the tasks of daily living, such as eating, bathing, and getting dressed, may prove to be impossible. Some individuals experience these situations for a short time. Others have a chronic condition that renders them in need of help. Psychiatric aides provide that help.

What is a Psychiatric Aide?

Psychiatric aides are just one part of a clinical staff that is responsible for providing care to mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals that typically cannot care for themselves. Psychiatric aides are entry-level workers, and as a result, perform their duties under the supervision of mental and medical health care staff. They are usually directly supervised by nursing staff and adhere to the overall direction of treatment for each patient as outlined by the attending psychiatrist.

What Does a Psychiatric Aide Do?

Psychiatric aides are primarily responsible for direct care duties for mental health patients in an inpatient setting. They are the first line of care for patients, performing tasks such as observing patient behavior, taking notes, monitoring vital signs, and administering medications.

Another primary duty for psychiatric aides is to assist patients with tasks of daily living. This might include helping patients eat, drink, bathe, and get dressed. Housekeeping duties are also part of the job description. Psychiatric aides are responsible for changing bed linens and bedpans, cleaning rooms and bathrooms, and ensuring the facility is clean, organized, and safe.

Psychiatric aides are also responsible for overseeing activities within the facility. Aides often organize educational programs that benefit patients. For example, a psychiatric aide in a substance abuse facility might organize a drug education presentation for newly admitted patients. Recreational activities are also within the realm of job duties of psychiatric aides. Whether organizing a game night for patients or chaperoning field trips into the community, psychiatric aides commonly participate in group activities that promote patient growth.

Another primary aspect of this career involves responding to emergency situations. In the event that a patient becomes unruly or violent, psychiatric aides must work to diffuse the situation. For example, if a patient has lost his or her temper, a psychiatric aide would work to calm the patient down and diffuse the situation. In the case of violence, aides utilize their training to restrain patients such that they are not a danger to themselves or other people in the facility.

Where Do Psychiatric Aides Work?

By far, the most common place of employment for psychiatric aides is a hospital setting. This might be a psychiatric hospital, substance abuse hospital, or a medical facility with a psychiatric wing. In fact, 56% of psychiatric aides are employed in hospitals according to the BLS. Many psychiatric aides also work for state governments, most often in state-run facilities, such as a state mental health hospital.

Another highly common employment setting for a psychiatric aide is a residential treatment facility. These facilities specialize in the treatment and care of individuals that cannot care for themselves, such as those that are severely mentally impaired. To a lesser extent, psychiatric aides can be employed in outpatient care centers, doctor’s offices, or by community vocational services that provide in-home care to mentally disturbed individuals.

What Do You Need to be a Psychiatric Aide?

Education

Generally there are no formal education requirements one must fulfill to be a psychiatric aide. In fact, entrance into this field of work requires only a high school diploma or equivalent. Postsecondary courses in psychology and mental health technology may provide an advantage. Sometimes a valid driver’s license is required if transporting clients is a specified job duty.

Training

Psychiatric aides learn how to perform their job duties while on the job. Depending on the location of employment, training may last only several days, or it might last several months. During the training period, psychiatric aides are very closely supervised by more senior psychiatric aides, nurses, doctors, and other medical and administrative personnel.

Training often includes observation of other workers, workshops, seminars, and in-service activities. Psychiatric aides may be required to take part in more informal training as well, such as working through a training manual or an online course that relates to the duties they are required to perform.

Licensing Requirements

There are no national licensure requirements for psychiatric aides. However, four states offer licensure as a psychiatric technician – California, Colorado, Kansas, and Arkansas. In the remaining 46 states and Washington, D.C., psychiatric aides can pursue certification through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians, which offers four levels of certification:

  • Level 1 – which requires a high school diploma or GED.
  • Level 2 – which requires one year of on-the-job experience and completion of at least 30 credit hours of collegiate work.
  • Level 3 – which requires at least 60 credit hours of college coursework and two years of related work experience.
  • Level 4 – which requires a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, and at least three years of work in a psychiatric setting.

What Personality Traits are Required for a Psychiatric Aide?

Although psychiatric aides perform entry-level duties, they are required to have many personal skills and qualities in order to perform their job well. The following questions will help you decide whether or not you have the traits required to be a psychiatric aide.

  • Are you compassionate? Psychiatric aides are responsible for caring for individuals in deep psychiatric distress. Having the ability to convey care and concern, and having the capacity for empathy, are necessary to perform the duties of this job.
  • Are you patient? Progress with severely mentally ill patients can be incredibly slow. The work can be somewhat tedious as well. As a result, psychiatric aides must be patient and have the ability to remain calm in stressful or tense situations.
  • Are you physically fit? The work of psychiatric aides involves many physically-demanding activities. From transferring patients between beds and wheelchairs to restraining patients that have lost control to spending the vast majority of the day on their feet, psychiatric aides must be physically fit.
  • Do you pay attention to detail? Psychiatric aides must be detail-oriented because many of their job duties depend on it. Administering medications, checking and recording vital signs, and following treatment plans are just a few of the job duties that necessitate precision.

How Much Does a Psychiatric Aide Make?

As of May 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the average annual salary for psychiatric technicians to be $28,430. Workers in the lowest 10 percent of the pay band make an average of $18,760 while workers in the highest 10 percent of the pay band make an estimated $42,310 average annual wage.

The wages for this occupation are relatively consistent across industries. For example, psychiatric aides employed in a psychiatric hospital setting earn $29,890, while those employed by state agencies make an average of $30,000 per year. A wage of $24,440 can be expected from employment in a residential treatment facility.

Wages in this occupation are heavily influenced by geographic location. Alaska has the highest average wages for psychiatric aides, coming in at over $41,000 per year. Oregon, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and New York are also among the highest paying states in this career area, each with wages exceeding $31,000 per year. Conversely, psychiatric aides in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi can expect to make among the lowest wages. Workers in these states have an average income of less than $24,430 per year.

What Careers are Similar to Psychiatric Aide?

There are numerous careers in the mental and medical healthcare sectors that are similar to a psychiatric aide. These include:

Nursing Assistant/Orderly – Nursing assistants, or orderlies, are tasked with providing basic care to patients in a long-term care situation. This includes hospitals, hospice centers, and nursing homes. Like psychiatric aides, orderlies are responsible for helping their patients clean, dress, and bathe. Orderlies typically serve meals, take vital signs, and report on the patient’s condition to medical staff. To enter this field of work, candidates must complete a state-approved training program, pass an examination, and earn certification.

Home Health Aide – These workers assist patients that are unable to care for themselves. Unlike psychiatric aides, home health aides typically work with clients that have a severe illness, physical disability, or cognitive impairment, as opposed to those with a psychiatric need. While there is no formal education requirement to enter this career, some on-the-job training and testing is required.

Medical Assistant – People employed as medical assistants take on basic clinical tasks and some administrative duties in a doctor’s office or healthcare facility. They might be responsible for anything from patient intake to recording a patient’s vital signs to preparing blood samples for testing. Like psychiatric aides, medical assistants work under the close supervision of an attending nurse and/or physician. To become a medical assistant, one must have at least a high school diploma and some on-the-job training. However, it is more common for workers to have some post-secondary education and a medical assistant certificate.

Social and Human Services Assistant – The focus of social and human services assistants is on identifying and delivering services clients need to live the most comfortable life. These tasks can run the gamut from assisting a client with activities of daily living, such as grocery shopping, to investigating the types of services the client is eligible to receive. Like psychiatric assistants, workers in this field report to a supervisor regarding the progress of the client. Although careers in this field can be found with just a high school diploma, many more job opportunities are available to individuals that have at least an associate’s degree or a certification in the area of health and human services.

What are the Opportunities for Advancement for a Psychiatric Aide?

Because the position of psychiatric aide does not require much, if any, formal education, opportunities for advancement are somewhat limited without further training, education, or both. However, with some on-the-job experience, psychiatric aides that possess effective leadership skills might be able to move into a more supervisory role.

Additionally, the work that psychiatric aides perform on a daily basis is a good springboard for advanced training and educational opportunities. Many people that start out as a psychiatric aide go to school to train in a mental health or medical field. Nursing, psychology, and social work are great educational choices for people that have experience working as a psychiatric aide.

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