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How do I Become a Mental Health Technician?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A mental health technician is a vital part of the care team in psychiatric hospitals and other care facilities offering care to those with severe mental instabilities. There are generally two levels of training that people can take if they want to work in this field. With a short amount of training, sometimes only on the job work, some people can become a mental health aide, or psychiatric aide. The title of mental health technician is usually reserved for those with more extensive training in the field, though sometimes psychiatric technician, psychiatric aide, and mental health technician are used interchangeably.

Most people who want to become a mental health technician have at minimum a high school diploma. If interested in working with the mentally ill, taking some electives in high school may help get prepared for further study in this field. Taking psychology may help in understanding some of the basics of mental illness. Participating in peer counseling programs can be an excellent way to get started on developing good interpersonal skills. It also is important to remain physically fit, as technicians need to be fairly strong and able to move quickly.

After high school graduation, there are a number of different ways to get training. Plenty of community colleges and vocational schools have certificate programs or even degree programs that can help train people. This training may not result in certification as a mental health tech. Students generally must receive, at minimum, certification as a nursing assistant, which qualifies them to work in most hospitals or care facilities. This certification may be included in community college or vocational school programs that train a person to become a mental health technician.

However, there is no specific mental health tech certificate in most states. People with training as nursing assistants may become psychiatric aides and learn their work on the job. Participating in a training program can still be beneficial, because the tech enters the workforce better trained to do his/her work.

Even if it doesn’t result in certification, participating in a training program specific to assisting the mentally ill or impaired is helpful because the technician better understands the community he or she serves. More studies may also give a competitive edge on obtaining jobs. Some of the likely courses in vocational and community college programs to become a mental health technician include ones focusing on patient care, psychology, counseling, mental illness, and psychopharmacology. Training in these programs usually takes a year, and if an associate’s degree is earned, two years may be required. There are some online training programs but these may not include practical studies (practice), which is a useful part of training.

Most people want to known what types of work they’ll be doing when they become a mental health technician. Generally, this will include direct patient care, like helping with cleaning and bathing, and direct patient contact or talking with and observing patients to make sure they are safe and comfortable. Strength can be required in this field, since it is occasionally necessary to subdue patients who become upset.

The downside for many people who are considering if they should work as a mental health technician is pay. Median salary as of the mid-2000s was $11 US Dollars (USD) per hour. This is fairly low since the job can include some physical risks, especially in caring for a population that may be unpredictable. Extra training may help increase salary, but given the costs in dollars and time of extra training, some people prefer a profession with higher remuneration.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By famnfriends — On Feb 11, 2011

@donna61--I believe the schooling you need to become a mental health technician is the beginning education needed for a further degree in psychology. As far as the work experience being applied as school credit, that would be decided by the Admissions office of the school you have applied to. They might allow you to test out of some classes. Good luck with your education!

By donna61 — On Feb 10, 2011

This position sounds like it would be a good starting point for someone interested in becoming a psychologist, or psychiatrist. The description of the mental health technician position is similar to the certified nursing assistant, but with psychology and counseling included. Does anyone know if you can use the work experience you have as a mental health tech and apply it towards college credit for a degree in psychology?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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