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Advancing Your Career
How to become a Psychiatric Technician
If you’re looking for a faster way to enter the psychology field than a bachelor’s or master’s degree program, you may want to consider becoming a psychiatric technician. Also called mental health technicians, these professionals help people with mental illnesses, substance abuse issues, or developmental disabilities who are usually confined to hospitals or public and private care facilities.
In this article, we’ll go over what they do in greater detail, the steps you need to take to become one, how much they make, which metros have the highest demand, and some frequently asked questions. We’ll also cover the traits you need to succeed in this profession and the technology you’ll likely be using, among other psychiatric technician requirements.
Working as a psych tech can be both challenging and rewarding. It requires compassion, patience, and the ability to work well under pressure. If you’re considering a career as a psychiatric technician, this comprehensive guide to becoming one is your first step.
Should I become a psychiatric technician?
You’re probably asking yourself if being a psych tech is a good career path to take. The answer depends on your personal interests, qualifications, and career goals. Some of the questions to ask yourself before taking the next step are:
- do you have an interest in working with individuals with mental health conditions?
- are you comfortable working in a healthcare setting?
- are you willing to work flexible hours, including evenings and weekends?
- are you able to work well under pressure and handle difficult situations?
- are you able to maintain a professional and compassionate demeanor?
If you answered yes to most of the above questions, then a psychiatric technician shool may be a good fit for you. However, it’s still important to research the field thoroughly and speak with people doing the job to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of psych techs, as well as the challenges and rewards of the job.
Steps to become a Psychiatric Technician
Choose your education route.
You can earn your high school diploma or GED and then enroll in a psychiatric technician certification program, or if you have worked as a nursing assistant or licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN/LVN) you can also complete a certificate program, or you can earn a two-year associate degree in psychology, psychiatric or mental health technology, or counseling.
Complete your supervised work experience.
If you choose the associate degree path, your program may include supervised work experience, where you’ll get hands-on hours in facilities where you may ultimately work.
Find a job.
You may be able to find a psych tech job in the same facility where you completed your supervised work experience or you could use job boards such as state job boards, university hospital and healthcare job boards, or the career center on the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT) website.
Get professional certification.
Regardless of the level of certification you’re pursuing, you’ll need to pass the exam offered by The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians.
The exam is an open book, 201-question test, and is the main psychiatric technician requirement. If you are seeking Level 2–4 certification you will also need to pass an essay exam about situations you may face on the job.
The AAPT’s four levels of certification are:
Requires you to have your high school diploma.
Requires the completion of at least 480 hours of college courses of any type, plus must have worked in the field of mental health or developmental disabilities for at least one year.
Requires the completion of at least 960 hours of college courses of any type, plus must have worked in the field of mental health or developmental disabilities for at least two years.
Requires completing a four-year bachelor’s degree in a mental health or developmental disabilities field, plus must have worked in the field of mental health or developmental disabilities for at least three years.
If you’re in a state that requires it, get your psychiatric technician license.
Most states do not require psychiatric technicians to get licensed. California, Colorado, Kansas, and Arkansas do require licensing, which usually requires completion of an accredited education program, passing an exam, and paying a fee.
Psychiatric technician salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says licensed psychiatric technicians earn a median annual salary of $36,570 and the highest 10% of the field earn more than $56,380. One way to potentially increase your pay is to earn either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree so that you can pursue certification at higher levels.
Pay will also depend upon your experience, the specific employer, and where in the U.S. you choose to work. Some states have a higher concentration of state hospitals and facilities, and these states may pay more. You can compare median annual salaries by state here:
Median Salary: $36,570
Projected job growth: 10.9%
10th Percentile: $26,980
25th Percentile: $29,210
75th Percentile: $45,620
90th Percentile: $56,380
Projected job growth: 10.9%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$61,340||$37,710||$61,340|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
How does their salary compare to similar occupations
It’s important to note that salaries are subject to change and may differ based on the location and the job market. With that in mind, here is how a median salary of a psych tech compares to similar professions.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
Where do psych techs make the most money?
If you’re wondering which metropolitan areas pay the best here are the top 10 areas for psychiatric technicians’ median annual salaries:
And the cities with the highest number of psychiatric technicians employed:
|Metro Area||Number of psych techs||Annual average wage|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||4,200||$40,360|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||3,340||$49,630|
|Chicago, Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI||3,200||$40,950|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||1,930||$46,810|
The BLS says psychiatric technicians will enjoy a 10.9% job growth through 2031, which is faster than average for all other jobs combined. Comparatively, psychiatric aides will grow as fast as average—4.6%—but still slower than technicians. Most of the positions to be filled will become available because of the country’s aging population and the increase in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
What being a psych tech is all about
It’s important to note that psychiatric technicians are different than psychiatric aides, who handle routine tasks such as cleaning and changing sheets and helping patients bathe, get dressed, and eat. Some tasks, such as monitoring individual and group activity, and helping to restrain violent patients may overlap, but as a rule, psychiatric technicians have more formal training than aides.
What does a psychiatric technician do?
Psychiatric technicians perform many duties in a day, and their daily tasks will largely depend upon where they work. For example, if they work with severely mentally disabled patients, they may work in intensive care units of a psychiatric hospital, and their job duties will likely differ from a technician working in an outpatient substance abuse facility.
As you can see, the job duties of psychiatric technicians are diverse and challenging. Highlighting the vital role these professionals play in the mental health care system and the level of responsibility they have for the well-being and safety of the patients under their care.
The traits and skills you’ll need
As a psychiatric technician, you will be working closely with people who are undergoing or living with extreme circumstances and may be on medications, going through recovery, are physically or mentally disabled, and have difficulty communicating their needs clearly.
You’ll also be working closely with medical, mental health, and other healthcare professionals who will rely upon your abilities to observe and document, monitor the behavior, and distribute medications on set schedules, among other duties. The AAPT suggests the following as some of the most important skills for a psychiatric technician:
- Emotionally stable
- You’ll be working with people who are mentally challenged, medicated, and who could be in denial about their situation. You’ll need to be calm and stable in your dealings with patients.
- Great observation skills
- You may be the eyes and ears for the medical team around a patient and they will need to rely on your observations to note changes, improvements, or worsening conditions in a patient.
- Work well with people
- You’ll be in contact with all kinds of people from all walks of life day in and out, so you’ll need to communicate well and have good people skills.
- Have empathy
- Your patients will be facing huge obstacles and challenges and some of their actions and responses may not be pretty. You’ll need to be empathic and patient.
- Be physically fit
- You may be first on the scene when a patient becomes unruly or even violent. Your fitness, awareness, and ability to look out for yourself, your patient, and others will be paramount.
- Be motivated to help people
- Your primary task is to help people cope, hopefully, improve and deal with their circumstances. You’ll need to want to be there.
The tools and technology you’ll likely use
Since most healthcare documentation is done through computer technology, having knowledge of computers, EMRs, the DSM, and other staples of the industry is key to succeeding.
Keep in mind that the tools and equipment you’ll actually use may vary depending on the specific setting you find yourself in and the types of patients you serve.
Frequently Asked Questions
How safe is the job?
There are unpredictable aspects to working with patients with mental illness or substance abuse issues, so psychiatric technician jobs can be dangerous.
In fact, the BLS says psychiatric technician and aide jobs have some of the highest rates of injuries of all occupations largely because the work has a lot of physically demanding tasks, such as lifting patients, and there may be interaction with patients who are physically uncooperative or violent.
What states recognize psychiatric technicians?
California is one of the most highly regulated states for psychiatric techs. The good news is if you earn your psychiatric technician license from California, you can apply your license in the states of Colorado, Arkansas, or Kansas.
These three states recognize the license as a valid credential. In any other state in the U.S. the license would not be recognized and earning the national certificate that the AAPT offers may be your best course of action.
What are some common career paths for psychiatric technicians?
The AAPT suggests more education and training as the path to advance in your psychiatric technician career. Some techs become licensed or pursue professional certification levels that require an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Many psychiatric technicians become licensed practical nurses or registered nurses. Others pursue college degrees in special education, social work, psychology or sociology with the goal of becoming counselors, therapists, social workers, special education teachers and rehabilitation counselors, among other career fields.
Are you ready to embark on what can be a rewarding and fulfilling career choice by making a positive impact on the lives of individuals? With the right education and training, you can gain the knowledge and skills necessary to provide essential care and support to patients’ needs.
Browse through the various psychiatric technician program options available at our partner universities by using the find schools widget on this page, request more information, and take the first step toward your new career.