Psychiatric Technician (Aide)

Entry-level professionals in the field of psychology work as psychiatric technicians or aides. They provide support and care to individuals with disabilities in mental health care facilities, correctional centers, psychiatric hospitals, and substance abuse centers. Aides can assist with day to day tasks such as hygiene, eating, and group activities in addition to monitoring overall wellbeing. Technicians, by comparison, have more responsibilities, including administering medications, assisting with intake and discharge, and taking vital signs.

Education requirements for this field are relatively quick to attain. Psychiatric aides need to only complete high school or obtain a GED and receive on the job training. Psychiatric technicians typically need to complete a certificate program or an associate’s degree. These programs train students in basic nursing skills as well as clinical psychology skills. Many programs require students to complete practical experiences to receive hands-on training.

This is a growing field because of the large aging population in the US. Between 2018 and 2028, there is an emancipated 12 percent increase in psychiatric technician jobs and an 11 percent increase in aides jobs nationally.

Continue reading to learn how to enter this field, including top programs of study, types of degrees earned, and certification and licensing requirements.

Psychiatric Technician Specializations & Degree Types

Education requirements for psychiatric technicians and aides vary based on employer and state regulations. At a minimum, aides must complete high school or have a GED. Technicians, on the other hand, have typically completed a certificate program or an associate’s degree. These programs are available at community colleges, dedicated medical arts schools, and even some state hospitals.

Admissions Requirements for Psychiatric Technician Programs

Admission requirements for psychiatric technician programs generally are not very competitive. Most programs only require that students have completed high school or have obtained a GED. Some programs may even waive those requirements. Background checks are standard at many programs and applicants with criminal histories may be denied admission. At some schools, there is also mandatory drug testing before beginning the program.

More competitive programs may require students to complete prerequisite coursework or already have work experience. Courses that may be required prior to admission include psychology, biology, math, and English composition.

Psychiatric Technician Program Accreditation

While there is no single accrediting body for psychiatric technicians or aide programs, students should ensure that the program they are attending has regional accreditation.

Programs that have received accreditation from an agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Education, have met a minimum standard of quality and content. Attending an accredited program also ensures that the credits earned while pursuing a certificate or associate degree can later be transferred to a four-year school and can count towards a bachelor’s degree.

On-Campus Psychiatric Technician Programs

San Bernardino Valley College

In just one year, students can earn a psychiatric technology certificate from San Bernadino Valley College. With some additional studies and a semester or two longer, students can earn an associate of science (AS). Graduates will have the skills to work in community agencies, providing services to clients with mental, emotional, or developmental disabilities.

This program requires students to complete 46 units (or 60 units if earning an associate degree). Required classes include an introduction to psychiatric technology, nursing science, and behavioral science. This program meets all of the requirements for licensure from the State of California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians. Applicants to this program need to complete prerequisite coursework in English, math, biology, and psychology in addition to other coursework or work experience.

  • Location: San Bernardino, CA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • accreditation: California Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT)
  • Tuition: $12,251 total if the program is completed in one year

San Joaquin Delta College

Graduates of the one-year certificate psychiatric technician program at San Joaquin Delta College have received the training to work in a variety of mental health care facilities. They will also be prepared to sit for the Licensed Psychiatric Technician exam in the state of California. With an excellent job outlook, graduates can find employment at state corrections, communty services, and developmental centers.

Required coursework for this program includes foundations of nursing, developmental disabilities, pharmacology, and psychiatric nursing. Admissions to this program can be competitive and applicants are required to complete prerequisite coursework, including anatomy and physiology, psychology, human development, and medical terminology. All courses must be completed with a 2.5 GPA or higher.

  • Location: Stockton, CA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $278 per credit-hour

Pueblo Community College

Completing the psychiatric technician program at Pueblo Community College is a solid first step for students looking to enter this profession. Graduates will be able to participate in the care and treatment of patients with mental, emotional, or developmental disabilities. Upon completion of the program, students are awarded a certificate of achievement.

This program can be completed in as little as one year and with only 34.5 credits. Required coursework includes nurse aid health care skills, essential concepts of care, psychiatric management, and intro to behavioral health care. Applicants for admission are required to complete prerequisite coursework in anatomy and physiology and math for clinical calculations. Other admission requirements include a 2.5 GPA and a high school diploma.

  • Location: Pueblo, CO
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $629.25 per credit-hour

West Hills Community College

The psychiatric technician program at West Hills Community College teaches students basic nursing skills and psychiatric principles to prepare them to enter this profession. Students can choose to pursue either a one-year certificate program or complete a two-year associate’s degree. Skills learned in this program include how to administer medications, provide therapy, and help clients develop relationships.

This certificate is offered once a year in August. During the first semester, students participate in lecture courses. The second semester is primarily clinical assignments to gain valuable hands-on experience. Applicants for admission must complete prerequisite coursework in math for medical professionals, medical terminology, and introduction to the medical profession. An active California Certified Nursing Assistant license highly recommended for admission, albeit not required.

  • Location: Coalinga, CA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $4,700 for the entire program

Online or Hybrid Psychiatric Technician Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of psychiatric technician programs, the best options for schooling are on campus and in person. While there are some online certificate programs for psychiatric technicians, they are generally short courses and not accredited.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychiatric Technician?

Students can complete the education required to become a psychiatric technician in just one year post graduating high school. Those pursuing an associate degree will need two years to complete all required coursework.

Psychiatric aides generally can enter the field with on-the-job training.

How To Become a Psychiatric Technician – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or obtaining a GED is a requirement for work as a psychiatric aide or for admission to a psychiatric technician program. A diploma or GED demonstrates dedication to completing a program as well as demonstrating a minimum level of education. Students who wish to pursue this career should focus on classes such as English, psychology, math, and biology.

Volunteering or interning in a mental health care facility while still in high school is an excellent way to boost job applications and gain early career work experience.

Step 2: Complete a Psychiatric Technician Program (Nine months to Two Years)

Psychiatric aides can enter the field with on-the-job training upon graduating high school.

Psychiatric technicians, on the other hand, are required to complete a training program. These programs vary in length from one year for a certificate to two years for an associate’s degree. Some programs have prerequisite coursework requirements in math, biology, psychology, and composition. Prospective applicants should familiarize themselves with their school’s admissions policies. Many programs require applicants to pass a background check or drug screenings prior to enrollment.

Step 3: Obtain State Licensure, If Required (Timeline Varies)

Only a handful of states currently require psychiatric technicians to be licensed. Requirements vary by state but typically include completing an approved training program, passing a state licensing exam, submitting a completed application, and paying an application fee.

See the certification section below for a detailed breakdown of requirements.

What Do Psychiatric Technicians Do?

Psychiatric technicians and aides are employed at psychiatric hospitals, correction centers, residential mental health centers, and substance abuse centers. Day-to-day responsibilities vary between aides and technicians as well as based on job title, place of employment, and education.

Typical job duties for psychiatric aides include:

  • Monitoring patient mood and behavior
  • Assisting patients with day to day activities including getting dressed, eating, and personal hygiene.
  • Cleaning patients rooms and other parts of the facility
  • Transporting patients to medical appointments, social services, or the hospital
  • Helping clients participate in group activities such as field trips or exercise

Job duties for psychiatric technicians include the responsibilities above in addition to:

  • Administering medications per doctor’s orders
  • Leading group activities for clients that provide therapeutic value
  • Assisting with admission and discharge of patients
  • Monitoring vital signs such as pulse, oxygen levels, and blood pressure
  • Providing medical treatments per doctor’s orders

Psychiatric Technician Certifications & Licensure

Certification for psychiatric aides and technicians is a voluntary process.

The most common national certification obtained for psychiatric technicians is through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT). This certification demonstrates competency in the field through testing. Candidates may sit for one of four exams based on the level of education and training completed. Earning this certification can improve technicians’ job applications and opportunities for advancement.

Currently, only Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri require psychiatric technicians to be licensed. Requirements vary by state but typically include graduating from high school, completing a psychiatric technician program, passing a state exam, and paying an application fee.

Prospective professionals should check with their state licensing boards to ensure they meet all the requirements.

How Much Do Psychiatric Technicians Make?

Pay for psychiatric technicians and aides varies based on place of employment, job duties, and level of education.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), psychiatric technicians earn an average of $37,550 per year and aides earn $32,590 per year.

The percentiles for psychiatric technicians are:

  • 10th percentile: $23,440
  • 25th percentile: $27,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $33,780
  • 75th percentile: $43,200
  • 90th percentile: $62,120

The salary percentiles for psychiatric aides are:

  • 10th percentile: $21,440
  • 25th percentile: $24,820
  • 50th percentile (median): $31,110
  • 75th percentile: $38,520
  • 90th percentile: $47,690
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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