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Mental Health Technician Career Info and Education Requirements

Mental health technicians, also called mental health assistants and psychiatric aides, work under the supervision of psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors to care for emotionally disturbed and mentally ill patients. Mental health technicians generally hold a certificate or associate's degree in the field.

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Career Information for Mental Health Technicians

Mental health technicians work mostly in public and private psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, residential mental health institutions and schools for the mentally retarded. The number of psychiatric technician and psychiatric aide positions is expected to increase approximately 15% between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).

The growth stems partly from the increasing number of senior citizens who may be in need of mental health care. Also, more psychiatric patients are being treated in residential facilities rather than hospitals, so mental health technicians will be needed to work in those facilities.

The BLS reports that psychiatric technicians got a median salary of $30,050 in 2012, while psychiatric aides (with less postsecondary education) got a median salary of $24,580.

Education Requirements

Employers sometimes hire and train applicants who hold a high school diploma as psychiatric aides. Therefore, high school students desiring a career as a mental health technician should study psychology, anatomy, biology and sociology and obtain experience related to mental health technology by volunteering in mental health facilities.

However, employers prefer to hire psychiatric technicians who hold a certificate or associate's degree in mental health technology or related field, such as certified nursing assistant. Individuals planning to pursue a mental health technician career must have good interpersonal and observation skills.

Curriculum

Mental health technology education programs usually include courses in psychology, crisis intervention, human development, substance abuse and group dynamics. Students learn to coordinate mental health services, document treatments and help patients with their needs, including personal hygiene. Candidates in associate's degree programs may receive advanced training in helping mental health professionals coordinate, assess and treat patients. Both associate's degree and certificate programs typically include internships in mental health care facilities.

Training Programs

Training varies depending on the employer, but newly hired mental health technicians usually receive some type of training, which may include on-site classroom instruction. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement and encourage mental health technicians to use the program to obtain certificates, diplomas and degrees. Mental health technician career training programs are also available at some vocational high schools.

Certification Requirements

Employers and the vast majority of states have no certification requirements for mental health technicians. Only a handful of states, including Kansas, Colorado, Arkansas and California, require psychiatric technicians to pass the certification exam administered by the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT). Mental health technicians who pass the AAPT exam may have a competitive edge in the job market.

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