Psychiatric & Mental Health Technician

Mental health awareness is rising, but not all mental health careers occur in a clinic. Psychiatric technicians are mental health professionals who care for patients with cognitive and developmental disabilities in assisted living and private care environments. According to the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT), psychiatric technicians “carry out doctors’ orders, serving as the eyes, ears, and hands of the diagnosing professional.”

Psychiatric and mental health technicians are vital players in mental health treatment. Rather than seeing patients in a clinic, psychiatric technicians work with patients in various settings. Remember that while these titles are used interchangeably, a psychiatric technician is used more often and is the job for which the most certifications and degree programs are offered.

A third title, psychiatric aide, is often grouped into the same category, but these professionals are more entry-level than psychiatric technicians. Many psychiatric technicians start as aides—largely assisting with the daily living functions of mental health patients—and become technicians with more experience and education.

The job outlook for mental health technicians is better than average and slated for growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), the need for psychiatric technicians will grow by 11 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the national average (8 percent). This means an estimated 15,800 new positions will be needed in the same decade.

A psychiatric technician works closely with mental health treatment teams to improve patient outcomes. The daily tasks of a psychiatric technician vary widely depending on the clinical setting. Some technicians may spend most of their time helping severely disabled patients with essential living functions, including feeding, dressing, and bathing. Psychiatric technicians with more training may have more clinically focused tasks such as interviewing new patients, monitoring patient progress, and helping to determine treatment plans alongside other mental health professionals.

Psychiatric and mental health technicians are not federally licensed, although a few states do have licensing requirements through their respective boards of nursing. In most states, entry-level jobs as psychiatric technicians or aides are available without certification or even specific education. However, academic programs are still available for those who want a head start in the job market.

Read on to learn more about becoming a psychiatric and mental health technician—an immensely satisfying career that can make a real difference in the lives of others.

Degree & Certification Programs for Psychiatric Health

In many states, entry-level work as a psychiatric and mental health technician does not require degree or formal training. However, to advance through the field, obtain higher levels of certification, and widen one’s job prospects, it’s advisable to seek formal training from a psychiatric technician, assistant degree, or certificate program. These programs provide solid foundations in basic anatomy and biology and the fundamentals of psychiatric training necessary to excel in entry-level jobs.

Some programs offer associate of science (AS) degrees, while others culminate in certification with no degree. It should be noted that even the lowest level of certification possible from the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT) requires a high school diploma or GED to be eligible.

Here is a selection of psychiatric and mental health technician training programs in the United States.

Cypress College (Certificate): The psychiatric technician certificate program at Cypress College in Cypress, California, consists of 52 credits, including prerequisites and electives. Students can complete additional general education courses to earn their associate of science (AS) degree. This competitive program only accepts 24 students every fall and spring semester.

Students with a score of 3 or higher on the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology exam can petition to take fewer courses and earn their degree faster. Cypress College offers free tuition to students who meet specific qualifications.

  • Location: Cypress, CA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT)
  • Tuition: $46 per unit (in-state); $331 per unit (out-of-state)

Pueblo Community College (Certificate): With four campuses across western Colorado, the Pueblo Community College program is ideal for residents of that region. This psychiatric technician certificate program is also brief, requiring two semesters. Students learn the basics necessary to work as psychiatric technicians in Colorado, including basic nursing skills and psychiatric concepts. Pre-requisite courses include basic anatomy and physiology, nurse aid health care skills, and clinical experience.

  • Location: Pueblo, CO
  • Duration: One semester
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $248 per credit (in-state); $630 per credit (out-of-state)

San Bernardino Valley College (AS): At San Bernardino Valley College in San Bernardino, California, students can enroll in a one-year program to become eligible for the California Psychiatric Technician licensing examination. Students will take psychiatric technology, nursing science, and behavioral science courses. Students must also take required core classes to earn the optional AS degree.

  • Location: San Bernardino, CA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT)
  • Tuition: $46 per unit (in-state); $307 per united (out-of-state)



List of Psychiatric & Mental Health Technician Schools

Filter by state :
School City State Website GRADS ('21)
Lone Star College System The Woodlands Texas 129
CUNY Kingsborough Community College Brooklyn New York 104
CUNY LaGuardia Community College Long Island City New York 97
Cuesta College San Luis Obispo California 71
San Bernardino Valley College San Bernardino California 58
Mt San Antonio College Walnut California 55
Milwaukee Area Technical College Milwaukee Wisconsin 52
Napa Valley College Napa California 52
West Hills College-Coalinga Coalinga California 44
Columbus State Community College Columbus Ohio 44
Gateway Technical College Kenosha Wisconsin 39
Cypress College Cypress California 39
San Joaquin Delta College Stockton California 37
Western Technical College La Crosse Wisconsin 35
Northern Essex Community College Haverhill Massachusetts 34
Middlesex Community College Bedford Massachusetts 34
Housatonic Community College Bridgeport Connecticut 31
Tunxis Community College Farmington Connecticut 28
Cuyahoga Community College District Cleveland Ohio 27
Tarrant County College District Fort Worth Texas 27
Madison Area Technical College Madison Wisconsin 23
Alvin Community College Alvin Texas 23
McLennan Community College Waco Texas 22
Pierce College District Lakewood Washington 21
Gateway Community College New Haven Connecticut 20
High Plains Technology Center Woodward Oklahoma 18
Porterville College Porterville California 17
Naugatuck Valley Community College Waterbury Connecticut 17
Houston Community College Houston Texas 17
Allegany College of Maryland Cumberland Maryland 15
Belmont College St Clairsville Ohio 15
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Green Bay Wisconsin 14
Blackhawk Technical College Janesville Wisconsin 13
San Jacinto Community College Pasadena Texas 13
Yuba College Marysville California 12
Three Rivers Community College Norwich Connecticut 12
Atlantic Technical College Coconut Creek Florida 11
Pueblo Community College Pueblo Colorado 11
Century College White Bear Lake Minnesota 10
Asnuntuck Community College Enfield Connecticut 10
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Fennimore Wisconsin 10
North Central Missouri College Trenton Missouri 9
Middlesex Community College Middletown Connecticut 9
Norwalk Community College Norwalk Connecticut 9
University of San Francisco San Francisco California 8
College of Southern Maryland La Plata Maryland 5
Hacienda La Puente Adult Education La Puente California 5
Pennsylvania Institute of Technology Media Pennsylvania 4
Wharton County Junior College Wharton Texas 4
Wayne County Community College District Detroit Michigan 4
Hagerstown Community College Hagerstown Maryland 4
Sinclair Community College Dayton Ohio 4
Nicolet Area Technical College Rhinelander Wisconsin 4
Community College of Baltimore County Baltimore Maryland 2
Montgomery College Rockville Maryland 1
Pikes Peak Community College Colorado Springs Colorado 1
Mission College Santa Clara California 1
Capital Community College Hartford Connecticut 1
San Antonio College San Antonio Texas 1
Quinebaug Valley Community College Danielson Connecticut 1
Northwestern Connecticut Community College Winsted Connecticut 1
Purdue University Fort Wayne Fort Wayne Indiana 1
North Shore Community College Danvers Massachusetts 1
'20-'21 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in September, 2023)

Hybrid & Online Programs for Psychiatric & Mental Health Technicians

While classroom sessions can be valuable, some people do not have the time or resources to commit to a full-time course load or may live outside of the commuting range from an accredited program. In these cases, distance learning can be a great option. Some psychiatric technician online programs might include some hands-on experience in the form of a practicum that students can undertake at their chosen location while others may be entirely online.

InterCoast (Certificate): InterCoast offers a certificate for Mental Health Rehabilitation Technician, with online courses or in a classroom. The program requires a GED for admittance and prepares students for entry-level work in the mental health field. The program is approved by the Bureau of Private Post Secondary Education (BPPE) in California and takes 720 hours and takes 52 weeks to complete.

  • Location: Santa Ana, CA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET)
  • Tuition: $40,000 total (approximately)

Midlands Technical College (AS): At Midlands Technical College, students can earn an associate’s of science in psychology specifically designed to prepare them for a career as a mental health technician. Courses in this 61-credit program are delivered on-campus, online, or in a hybrid format, and students can choose full- or part-time enrollment. Graduates from this program can pursue entry-level careers as psychiatric assistants or transfer credits to a bachelor’s degree program.

  • Location: Columbia, SC
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $11,468 total
School City State Website GRADS ('21)
Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis Indiana 576
Grand Canyon University Phoenix Arizona 317
Northcentral Technical College Wausau Wisconsin 121
Columbia Southern University Orange Beach Alabama 96
University of Maine at Augusta Augusta Maine 69
Waukesha County Technical College Pewaukee Wisconsin 29
Montgomery County Community College Blue Bell Pennsylvania 29
Northwood Technical College Shell Lake Wisconsin 24
University of Alaska Anchorage Anchorage Alaska 20
Stautzenberger College-Maumee Maumee Ohio 19
InterCoast Colleges-West Covina W. Covina California 12
Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts San Mateo California 12
University of San Francisco San Francisco California 8
Stautzenberger College-Brecksville Brecksville Ohio 5
Stautzenberger College-Rockford Career College Rockford Illinois 5
Minnesota State Community and Technical College Fergus Falls Minnesota 4
San Antonio College San Antonio Texas 1
'20-'21 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in September, 2023)

Core & Elective Courses for Psychiatric & Mental Health Technicians

Required courses will vary from program to program, but there are similarities among most psychiatric technician curricula. These courses include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Introduction to psychology
  • Nursing science

For simplicity, other programs may cover the same subjects but group them in larger courses with titles like "Psychiatric Technician I".

General education electives will be required for students attending a program that culminates in a degree. Psychiatric technicians may find it helpful to take courses in a second language, communication skills, or the arts, as all can be useful in the course of the job.

In addition, many psychiatric technician students will be required to pass a background check with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and complete a CPR course before being awarded their certificate or degree.


Accreditation of Psychiatric & Mental Health Technician Programs

There is no accrediting body specific to psychiatric and mental health technician programs. However, institutions of higher learning, including community colleges, earn institutional accreditation from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which is itself approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the accrediting body for the U.S. Department of Education.

The accreditation process differs from one agency to another but generally requires the school to undergo a thorough self-study of facilities, faculty, and curricula and compile a report on the findings. Upon completion of this report, representatives from the accrediting agencies will perform a site visit and decide whether or not to offer preliminary accreditation. For specific criteria, visit the website of the accrediting agency in question.

It is also important to note that where a state requires certification, they may also require governmental approval of psychiatric tech programs. For example, the state of California Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT) maintains a list of approved programs. To apply for licensure in California, graduates must have attended an approved school. Since these requirements can vary from state to state, applicants to a psychiatric technician program must verify state requirements before pursuing a particular program.


Career Outlook

Psychiatric technicians are one of many fast-growing healthcare and allied health careers. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS), the growth rate for all healthcare occupations is expected to grow by 16 percent in the coming decade. By comparison, psychiatric technicians and aides are expected to grow by 11 percent between 2020 and 2030 (BLS 2021). These figures represent faster than average occupational growth than the national average (8 percent).

However, it should be noted that these projections may increase as more Americans gain access to healthcare that covers mental health treatment. The aging population will continue to need care for cognitive disorders that affect older adults, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

As for pay, the median annual salary for a psychiatric technician is $36,570. The top 10 percent of psychiatric technicians earn $56,380 or more, while the bottom 10 percent earn less than $26,980 (BLS May 2021).

For psychiatric aides, those numbers are lower, with the mean salary coming in at $30,260, the top 10 percent at $48,140, and the bottom 10 percent at $23,120.

Psychiatric technicians work in specialty hospitals, followed by the state government, assisted living facilities, local government, and nursing facilities.

Psychiatric and mental health technicians specialize in either mentally ill patients or those with developmental disabilities. There is no wage or experience differential between these two tracks, but the specialization can be worthwhile for people who strongly prefer one type of work or the other. Technicians can also specialize in different populations, from adolescents to older adults, for an even narrower scope of practice.

Licensing & Certification for Psychiatric & Mental Health Technicians

The AAPT offers four levels of certification for psychiatric technicians, depending on the education and experience of the person applying for certification. The requirements are as follows:

  • Level 1 requires a high school diploma or GED but no related experience in mental health.
  • Level 2 requires at least 480 hours of college or university work in any field and one year of work experience in mental health or developmental disabilities.
  • Level 3 requires at least 960 hours of college or university work in any field and two years of work experience in mental health or developmental disabilities.
  • Level 4 requires a bachelor's degree in a mental health or behavioral sciences field and three years of work experience in mental health or developmental disabilities.

Certification at all levels consists of a multiple-choice exam, while applicants for the upper three tiers must also submit an essay portion. According to the BLS, psychiatric aides are not required to be licensed (BLS 2021).

Further, as of 2022, five states require their own licensing for psychiatric technicians: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. The specific licensure requirements are different for each state and should be reviewed thoroughly by anyone who plans to work as a psychiatric technician in any of those locations.

Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd Writer

Rachel Drummond has contributed insightful articles to since 2019, where she offers valuable advice and guidance for those pursuing careers in the healthcare field, combining her passion for education with her understanding of the critical role that healthcare professionals play in promoting physical and mental well-being.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.