Your buddies think you’re a great source of support and that you should go into the mental health field. Mental health workers, in common with those who provide physical health care, may be highly educated professionals with advanced degrees or aides who have a high school diploma and perform less complex tasks. In the middle of this group are psychiatric technicians, or psych techs, who work directly with patients and provide support to physicians and nurses.
School Days, School Days
Psych techs may begin their careers as psychiatric aides, who have a high school diploma and on-the-job training, according to the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians. Psych techs often have more formal training, usually in a certificate program, although associate degrees are offered by some programs. In the four states that require psych techs to be licensed -- Arkansas, California, Colorado and Kansas -- the tech must usually complete an accredited program and pass a licensing exam, for which there is a fee. Certification is also an option for psych techs, although not generally required for practice.
Playing on the Team
You’ll need to be a team player. Psych techs work under the direction of a physician in much same the way as a licensed practical nurse. Among other duties, you’ll carry out a physician’s instructions and report back on the patient’s response to treatment. You may provide assistance with personal grooming and other daily activities for patients who are too ill to do their own care, observe the patient’s behavior, administer medications or conduct therapy sessions. In addition, you’ll document your care and observations.
About the Work
You may work in a wide variety of settings, including residential treatment programs, correctional facilities and inpatient mental hospitals. The majority of psych techs work in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals -- 39 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The smallest group -- 2 percent -- works in outpatient care centers. In many settings, the psych tech must work evening or night shifts as well as weekends and holidays. The AAPT notes that psych techs may face violent patients on occasion and that the work can be emotionally draining. A stable personality and the ability to work well as a member of team are both important characteristics, as are compassion, patience and physical stamina.
Looking to the Future
The BLS reports demand for psych techs will grow at about the same rate as most occupations -- 15 percent between 2010 and 2020. Cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse will drive demand, as will the move to treat patients with mental illness outside of psychiatric inpatient facilities, for reasons of cost and quality. An aging prison population is also expected to increase demand, and adults with disabilities may need care as their parents age or die.
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