If you're helpful, compassionate and a good listener -- but don't like providing any of the above for free -- you might consider becoming a psychiatric technician. Psych techs assist patients with mental illness or developmental disabilities. Their duties include watching and reporting patient behavior, monitoring vital signs, and helping with basic needs, such as bathing, dressing and feeding. Although voluntary certification is offered through American Association of Psychiatric Technicians, the states of California, Kansas, Arkansas and Colorado have their own licensing requirements.
You’ve got to be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma to qualify for the lowest level of psych tech certification through the AAPT, or to enter a psychiatric technology course offered through community colleges and technical schools. Passing standardized tests or taking prerequisite science courses might also be necessary for certain programs, depending on the certification/ licensing requirements of the state. For example, Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts in California requires applicants to submit scores from a Scholastic Level Exam and to pass a prerequisite science course.
AAPT Certification Levels
The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers four certification levels. Candidates for Level 1 must present a high diploma or GED; candidates for Level 2 must have completed a minimum of 480 hours of college-level work -- which breaks down to 40 quarters hours or 30 semester hours -- in addition to having at least one year of work experience in the developmental disability or mental health fields. Level 3 candidates must have at least 60 semester or 80 quarter hours, as well as two years experience in the mental health or developmental disability fields. Level 4 candidates must have a bachelor’s degree in mental health or developmental disability, along with three years of field experience.
AAPT Certification Exams
For all AAPT certification levels, applicants are required to pass the Level 1 exam which includes an open-book, multiple choice exam. For Levels 2 through 4, candidates must complete an essay test that elaborates on potential job scenarios. States with involuntary certification or licensing requirements have different testing procedures -- check your state board of health for details.
To keep your AAPT certification current, you must finish 12 hours of field study each year; options include a classroom course, home-study class or in-service training, as well as reading one book on mental health, according to the AAPT website. States that require licensing or certification for psych techs will have their own prerequisites for renewal.
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