A Guide to Jobs for Psychiatric and Mental Health Technicians
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More than 78,000 psychiatric technicians are employed in the US. These professionals provide essential mental health care services to vulnerable populations in a variety of settings. They are responsible for much of the day-to-day care and supervision of people with developmental disabilities or mental health disorders. The populations they work with include children, adolescents, adults, minorities, and the elderly.
Psychiatric and mental health technicians must complete education to enter this field. The most common education completed is a psychiatric technician certificate, which can be completed in as little as a year. However, many professionals in this field pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as this can increase employability and pave the way for career advancement. Some professionals will also choose to complete a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) program, as some states and employers require this.
Certification in this field is optional, albeit highly recommended, as it demonstrates education and competency. Currently, only a few states require psychiatric technicians to be licensed, so candidates should check with their local licensing boards to ensure they have all the necessary qualifications.
Once education is completed, psychiatric technicians can choose from a variety of career options. Different places of employers offer a variety of challenges and opportunities to work with diverse populations. Psychiatric technicians looking to work one-on-one with clients long term might choose to work in a residential care facility or group home, while those interested in working with acute mental illness onset will find work in an emergency room rewarding.
Below is a list of top work settings that employ psychiatric technicians, typical duties for techs who work there, and what education is necessary to be employed there.
Emergency Rooms – Jobs & Responsibilities
People experiencing a mental health crisis may land in an emergency room. While doctors can assess and help treat these patients, they often require additional care than patients with non-mental health injuries. Psychiatric technicians who work in emergency rooms have the training and skills to perform the following tasks:
- Observing and documenting all patient activities
- Taking vital signs
- Setting up and assisting with procedures
- Collecting samples from the patients
- Assisting nursing staff with restraints and seclusion
- Under the supervision of nursing staff, triaging patients who have arrived by ambulance or from law enforcement
- Maintaining a clean workspace
- Stocking patient rooms
Because emergency room care is acute, psychiatric technicians who work here often have to have additional training. Depending on the state and the employer, they must have completed a psychiatric technician program at a minimum. Some states require psychiatric technicians in emergency rooms to have an emergency medical technician (EMT) certificate or be a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Basic life support (BLS) certification is required for employment by most hospitals as well.
Psychiatric Units – Jobs & Responsibilities
Psychiatric units can either be stand-alone mental health hospitals or a hospital wing designated to psychiatric patients. Patients in these units have severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar, major depressive episodes, or eating disorders. Often, these patients are admitted because they are unstable or are at risk of harming themselves or others. These units are typically locked to keep patients inside and safe. Day-to-day tasks for psychiatric technicians who work in these units include:
- Monitoring patient behavior
- Eating meals with patients
- Attending or running group therapy sessions
- Collaborating with nursing staff to write and implement treatment plans for patients
- Assisting with the restraint or seclusion of patients
- Completing observation and assessments at intake and discharge
- Administering non-medical treatments
- Following protocols for suicide or elopement watches
- Escorting patients to off-site activities such as community visits, doctor’s appointments, or recreation
Each state and employer has its own level of education and training requirements to be a psychiatric technician in a psychiatric unit. At a minimum, professionals in this field have completed high school and have completed some education either as a psychiatric technician or a CNA. Basic life support (BLS) certification is required by most employers as well. Additional knowledge in psychology or an allied health career is highly desirable.
State Mental Health Centers – Jobs & Responsibilities
State-run psychiatric hospitals serve adults who need intensive treatment for persistent and severe mental illness. Patients in these centers or hospitals have been committed through court orders because they pose a danger to themselves or others, cannot care for themselves because of mental illness, or have committed a crime and cannot stand trial because of a mental disorder.
Services provided by psychiatric technicians in state mental health centers include:
- Assisting with patient admission and discharge
- Supervising visitors to ensure they follow facility policies
- Assisting with unit searches
- Responding to information requests via phone, email, or mail
- Maintaining patient records
- Attending patient court events as needed
- Observing and recording patient activity
- Performing security checks inside and outside the facility
- Providing daily living care such as bathing and personal hygiene
- De-escalating agitated patients based on training received
Working in a state mental health center or hospital requires specialized training and education. Requirements vary by state and employer but can include completing a psychiatric technician program, holding a CNA license, and sometimes even completing some education in corrections. Candidates must also have a BLS certification and pass a criminal background check and drug screening.
Corrections – Jobs & Responsibilities
It is estimated that 37 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Prisons have the duty to provide medical care to those incarcerated in their facility, including mental health care. While prisons employ psychiatrists and psychologists to diagnose and write treatment plans, much of the mental health care carried out in prisons is done by psychiatric technicians. Day-to-day duties for psychiatric technicians who work in corrections include:
- Providing basic level nursing and psychiatric care to inmates
- Observing, recording, and reporting inmate behavior and changes
- Maintaining inmate records
- Participating in the development of treatment plans
- Assisting with occupational, vocational, therapeutic, or educational therapy programs
- Taking vital signs
Working in corrections can be stressful, so adequate education and training are required. In addition to the certificate program needed to be a psychiatric technician, many psychiatric technicians who work in prisons must also be trained corrections officers. Federal corrections officers must have at least a bachelor’s degree, while state or county facilities may only require a high school diploma. Current CPR certification is also required.
Outpatient Mental Health Facilities – Jobs & Responsibilities
Patients who do not have severe mental health disorders, are in the early stages of addiction, and/or are transitioning out of inpatient care often receive intensive mental health treatment in an outpatient facility. These facilities provide structured daily activities and therapy while allowing patients to return home to their families and home each evening. Unlike inpatient treatment, clients have to deal with the day-to-day life stressors instead of being confined to a facility. Duties of psychiatric technicians who work in outpatient mental health facilities are:
- Greeting patients as they arrive for the day
- Documenting patient behavior and daily mental health status
- Assisting with nursing or psychiatric care
- Taking patient vital signs
- Accompanying patients on outings such as community gatherings or doctor’s appointments
- Maintaining cleanliness of the facility
- Sharing meals with patients
- Leading group therapy or recreational activities
Psychiatric technicians who work in outpatient mental health care centers must have some education and training, although these requirements vary by state and employer. The most common requirements are to have completed a psychiatrist technician training program. Some employers require psychiatric technicians to have also earned CNA certification.
Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center – Jobs & Responsibilities
Many people who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction also suffer from mental health disorders. These centers can be inpatient or outpatient and help patients manage their mental health issues while working on overcoming addiction. Responsibilities of psychiatric technicians who work at a drug and alcohol treatment center are:
- Monitoring the health and behavior of clients
- Documenting changes in client behavior
- Conducting safety checks of client’s personal belongings or rooms
- Observing clients while they give urine samples to tests for drugs and alcohol
- Facilitating recovery activities such as mindfulness classes or group therapy
- Accompanying clients on outings such as to doctor’s appointments, to run errands, or to access community services
- Maintaining careful client records
- Keeping open communication with clients to foster trust and openness
Education in drug and alcohol treatment may be necessary to work as a psychiatric technician in these centers. Professionals who pursue employment in drug and alcohol treatment centers often obtain a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s in substance abuse or related field. Much of the coursework overlaps with the coursework required to be a psychiatric technician. Substance abuse counselors must be licensed in all 50 states, so candidates should check with their state’s board to ensure they meet all the requirements.
Residential Care Facilities – Jobs & Responsibilities
Adults and children who suffer from developmental disabilities often live in residential care facilities or group homes. Residents live in these facilities and homes full time and need support performing everyday tasks. Usually, the care providers who work in these homes are psychiatric technicians. Support services provided by psychiatrist technicians in these home include:
- Monitoring residents behavior
- Taking vital signs
- Preparing and serving meals
- Creating fun activities for the residents to participate in
- Assisting residents with daily hygiene
- Transporting residents to their jobs, doctor’s appointments, and community activities
- Administering medications
- Maintaining a clean living space, including performing housekeeping duties and laundry.
Work in residential care facilities can be much less stressful than many of the other environments psychiatric technicians work in. Also, working in these facilities can be very rewarding as they impact clients’ daily lives in the place where they live. Education requirements can be as simple as having graduated from high school and having caregiving experience. Some states and employers require applicants to have earned a psychiatric technician certificate or associate’s degree.