Psychiatric Technician Career

What is a Psychiatric Technician?

Psychiatric technicians are entry-level mental health workers that typically are employed in residential treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities in which there are developmentally disabled or mentally disturbed patients. The primary function of this occupation is to contribute to the health and wellbeing of patients. It is a career that is very close in nature to the duties of licensed vocational nurses and medical assistants.

Although psychiatric technicians are not graduate or doctoral level workers, their function in helping patients cope with their disabilities or mental condition is nonetheless extremely important. Psychiatric technicians are often the first line of defense when working with mental health patients, much like nurses are for individuals with a physical illness or injury. In that regard, psychiatric technicians are but one part of a larger team of mental health workers charged with helping patients improve their overall functioning.

What Does a Psychiatric Technician Do?

Psychiatric technicians assist mental health care providers, such as psychiatrists, doctors, or registered nurses, in providing hands-on care to people that have a developmental disability or who suffer from a serious mental illness. Perhaps more so than any other mental health worker, psychiatric technicians are responsible for the front-line care of patients. They carry out orders from doctors, observe patient behavior, and treat patients.

Some duties of psychiatric technicians involve everyday care duties such as helping patients with grooming, bathing, dressing, and other activities of daily living such as maintaining a clean residence area. Psychiatric technicians are often involved in educational and recreational activities as well, such as taking a group of developmentally disabled individuals on a community outing. These duties are commensurate with an entry-level or level one technician.

Much of the time, psychiatric technicians are responsible for observing patient behaviors. This might include direct observation of a patient’s vital statistics, such as heart rate, respiration, and temperature, which is then reported to medical staff. Observation of mental health and behavior is a central component of the job as well, particularly in residential settings in which patient behavior could cause injury to themselves or to others. In these situations, psychiatric technicians are often the first to respond to an emergency, and in such situations may be tasked with administering medication, talking down patients who are in the midst of a crisis, or even physically restraining patients.

As the level of education and experience rises, so too does the range of duties and responsibilities for a psychiatric technician. Level three and four technicians engage in helping mental health providers plan and implement treatment strategies. They may also be responsible for intake procedures, including interviewing and admitting patients. Administrative duties are also common for higher level technicians, such as keeping case notes, maintaining paperwork, and other record-keeping duties. In some settings, psychiatric technicians may also be responsible for overseeing therapeutic activities with patients.

Where Do Psychiatrist Technicians Work?

Psychiatrist technicians work in numerous settings. They can be a part of rehabilitation teams and work in hospitals or rehabilitation clinics with various different kinds of patients. These technicians can also assist patients in outpatient or inpatient drug- and alcohol abuse programs. Some psychiatric technicians also visit patients in their own homes while others work in county jails or armed forces settings. Jobs in various mental health facilities are also common among psychiatric technicians. Some work in hospitals, or mental health clinics, while other are employed in psychiatric assessment centers or psychiatric emergency centers.

Jobs in various geriatric facilities have become increasingly common. Some psychiatrist technicians take care of elderly patients in daycare type settings, but many more severely ill elderly patients need to be taken care of in a more secure facility. Psychiatric technicians that work with children can be employed in special classes or even at various camps for children that have mental- or physical limitations.

What is the Career Outlook for Psychiatric Technicians?

The average job growth rate for all occupations in the United States is 11 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In comparison, the change in employment for the psychiatric technician sector is predicted to grow at just four percent through 2022. However, there are indications that this trend will change in the near future as the psychiatric needs of the nation’s older adults continue to increase.

There is also a growing need for psychiatric technicians in residential settings, such as those specifically designed for treating substance abuse. Community-based residential treatment centers have become increasingly popular in recent years, and as such, job opportunities in that sector are more robust than in other industries. Conversely, because treatment of individuals with serious mental disorders is far less often undertaken in a hospital setting, jobs in that industry are much more difficult to come by.

What is the Salary for a Psychiatric Technician?

There are nearly 65,000 psychiatric technicians in the United States. The average salary that these psychiatric technicians earn, according to the BLS, is $35,160, as of May 2014. However, there is wide variability in the potential wages one might earn. The bottom 10 percent of earners make just under $21,000 per year while the top 10 percent make an average of $57,280 per year. The top industries for pay include specialty hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and substance abuse treatment centers. Salaries for these industries vary from $37,130 in psychiatric and substance abuse settings to $47,770 in specialty hospitals.

What are the Education Requirements to Become a Psychiatric Technician?

The wide variability in terms of the required education for psychiatric technicians can cause much confusion for workers seeking to enter the field. In some states, workers need only a high school education with some post-secondary training in order to work as a psychiatric technician. In other states, certification is required while, in still other states, an associate’s degree and certification is required. Yet other states, including California, Colorado, Kansas, and Arkansas, require licensure in order to work as a psychiatric technician. However, despite the range of requirements for this occupation from state to state, the education needed to enter this field of work is relatively minimal.

For individuals seeking a college degree or certificate, there are many psychiatric technician and mental health technology programs available, usually in community college or technical school settings. These programs, which usually entail two years of studies, prepare students to administer medication, plan and implement intervention strategies, carry out case plans, and recognize patterns of abnormal behavior. Programs can range widely in length, from just one semester to up to two years.

There are a variety of certification levels for psychiatric technicians. A level one certification requires only a high school diploma or GED while a level two certification requires 30 credits of college coursework as well as one year of work in the mental health field. Level three technicians are required to complete at least 60 semester hours of coursework and have at least two years of work experience in a mental health setting. The highest certification, level four, requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of three years of experience working in a mental health setting. A passing score on a written certification exam is required as well.

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