Using counseling principles and nursing training, mental health assistants -- or psychiatric technicians -- help physicians, health practitioners and psychiatrists work with patients with mental or emotional disorders. This line of work takes compassion and physical stamina, and more than half of workers have formal training. Licensure is required in four states, and certification is available to demonstrate professional prowess.
Following the instructions of physicians or psychiatrists, mental health assistants monitor and observe patients with mental, emotional or developmental conditions. Using therapeutic care, these workers monitor patients' daily activities and ensure that their work environment is safe. While 56% of these employees work for hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they can also find jobs in state government, residential care facilities, outpatient centers and doctor offices. Both full- and part-time positions are available; however, the work is physically demanding, and injury and illness rates are high.
Mental health assistants record patients' physical condition by taking vital signs and observing behavior, and they also provide patients with assistance with daily tasks like bathing. With the help of other medical staff, they organize social or recreational activities and encourage patient participation. These medical professionals clean and disinfect patient rooms, help patients become accustomed to hospital routines and complete administrative tasks, like maintained medical information. In addition to serving meals and feeding patients, they may also be called upon to restrain violent individuals.
Necessary Job Skills
A keen knowledge of human behavior, learning and motivation, as well as assessment and treatment of psychological disorders, are necessary to monitor patients and watch for harmful or unusual behavior. Since mental health assistants spend much of their time working with distressed patients, they must have compassion and the ability to empathize with them. Teamwork is a large part of this career and requires strong interpersonal skills. To sense changes with patients, mental health assistants need strong observational skills and an understanding of therapy and counseling principles. Since this is a very physical job, these employees need strong physical stamina.
Education and Training
At least a high school diploma and on-the-job training -- anywhere from a few months to two years -- are necessary for this position; however, most employers prefer a formal education. Certification through bachelor’s degree programs are available in mental health technology or mental health assisting. ONet Online noted that 36 percent of mental health assistants had a bachelor’s degree, while 34 percent had a high school diploma and 10 percent had some college but no degree. Currently, four states also require mental health assistants to be licensed. The requirements vary by state, but they typically include passing an exam and completing an accredited program. Additionally, the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers four levels of certification that can bolster a professional resume.
2016 Salary Information for Psychiatric Technicians and Aides
Psychiatric technicians and aides earned a median annual salary of $28,730 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, psychiatric technicians and aides earned a 25th percentile salary of $23,880, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $38,000, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 139,700 people were employed in the U.S. as psychiatric technicians and aides.