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. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) predicted that between 2019 and 2029, there is an anticipated 13 percent increase in psychiatric technician jobs and an 7 percent increase in aides jobs nationally. These fields are expected to add 11,700 and 4,000 jobs respectively over that decade-long period.

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 & Aide 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 Bernardino 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: $3,700 for the entire program

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, community 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

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: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $629.25 per credit

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 is 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: $311 per credit 

Mt. San Antonio College

Mt. San Antonio College offers a part-time pharmacy technician program. While this program is primarily completed as a certificate, students can complete additional general education studies and earn an associate’s degree. In this program, students will learn basic nursing skills, psychodynamics, and mental health principles to help them care for patients with mental disorders and disabilities. To be admitted to this program, students must complete an online application, be 18 years old, have graduated high school, and pass a background check. 

  • Location: Walnut, CA
  • Duration: One and half years
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $356 per credit

Online or Hybrid Psychiatric Technician Degree Programs

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College

The associate’s of applied sciences in human services technology at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College can be completed entirely online. This program also offers a certificate in human services and substance abuse studies that can be completed as a stand-alone course or in addition to the associate’s degree. 

This program is a great fit for aspiring psychiatric technicians as it requires coursework such as general psychology, children in crisis, counseling, substance abuse counseling, and more. In total, students must complete 68 semester credits in order to earn their associate’s degree. The certificate is only 17 credits. 

  • Location: Asheville, NC
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $268 per credit 

Southern New Hampshire University

Aspiring psychiatric technicians who want to earn a more advanced degree can complete the online bachelor’s of arts in psychology with a concentration in mental health at Southern New Hampshire University. To complete this program students will take extensive courses in psychology and counseling as well as experiential learning and an internship. 

Students can transfer in up to 90 of the required 117 credits, allowing them to complete their general education coursework before enrolling. Southern New Hampshire also allows students to sit for math assessments which, depending on the scores, can count for up to four math classes.   

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Tuition: $320 per credit 

Webster University College of Arts & Sciences 

The bachelor’s of arts in psychology at Webster University College of Arts & Sciences can be completed entirely online, at the St. Louis campus, or at select international campuses. This degree offers an emphasis in mental health for those looking to work as psychiatric technicians or another field of mental health. Ambitious students can complete this program as a three-year bachelor’s and two-year master’s, allowing them to pursue a career as a licensed counselor, should they so choose. 

While not required, it is highly recommended for students to complete a practicum in their community as well as a senior thesis project. In total, students must complete 45 credits of psychology-related coursework, in addition to general education classes, in order to earn this degree. 

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Duration: Four years 
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
  • Tuition: $725 per credit 

Kennesaw State University – College of Graduate and Professional Education

The mental health technician professional certificate at Kennesaw State University is a short, inexpensive, self-paced, online program to help psychiatric technicians advance in their field. This certificate can be completed in as little as four weeks and is awarded upon completion of all the modules and scoring at least a 70 on the final exam. 

Topics covered in this certificate include abnormal psychology, mental health, direct support, better interpersonal communication, personal excellence, and an introduction to addiction and recovery. The required course materials are included in the tuition and are delivered via mail or as an ebook. 

  • Location: Kennesaw, GA
  • Duration: Four weeks
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $3,679 for the entire course

Thomas Jefferson University 

In as little as two years, students can complete an online bachelor’s of arts in psychology at Thomas Jefferson University. Flexibility is a hallmark of this degree. With courses offered entirely online and in short eight-week terms, students have the ability to complete their studies while caring for family or pursuing their career. 

While this program is more advanced than the basic requirement to become a psychiatric technician, it can be beneficial for professionals in this field. There are six optional concentrations allowing students the opportunity to further specialize. 

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Two to three years 
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: $605 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychiatric Technician or Aide?

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 screening 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 & Aides 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 & Aides 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 2020), psychiatric technicians earn an average of $38,080 per year, and aides earn $33,300 per year. 

The (BLS May 2020) percentiles for 85,330 psychiatric technicians employed in the US are:

  • 10th percentile: $24,960
  • 25th percentile: $28,660
  • 50th percentile (median): $35,030
  • 75th percentile: $44,020
  • 90th percentile: $59,020

The (BLS May 2020) salary percentiles for 51,550 psychiatric aides employed in the US are:

  • 10th percentile: $21,840
  • 25th percentile: $25,630
  • 50th percentile (median): $31,570
  • 75th percentile: $39,270
  • 90th percentile: $48,880

Psychiatric Technicians Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a psychiatric technician. 

Become a Crisis Counselor

Crisis counselors work with clients who have very recently experienced a traumatic event, including assault, natural disaster, war, domestic violence, school shootings, and terrorist attacks. They provide immediate emergency mental health services. Once the crisis is addressed, their services are complete, and they refer their clients to ongoing mental health therapists who can provide long-term care.   

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)

Become an Addiction Specialist

Clients who have addiction issues need specialized mental health therapy. Addiction specialists have the training necessary to help clients overcome mental health and addiction issues at the same time. This holistic approach allows clients to succeed as it acknowledges that addiction and mental health can go hand in hand, and one cannot be treated without addressing the other.  

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC)

Become an Applied Behavioral Analyst

Applied behavior analysis is a treatment modality utilized on patients with traumatic brain injuries, developmental disability, autism, and compulsion disorders. Applied behavior analysts have received extensive training on how to administer therapy that helps increase desired behaviors while minimizing undesirable ones. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB)
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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