Mental Health Professions

No license is required; most mental health technicians (aka psychiatric aides) learn their skills on the job, from experienced workers or employer-provided classroom instruction. However, hospitals and nursing care facilities may require previous experience and/or certification as a nursing assistant (CNA).

The average hourly wage for mental health technicians and aides employed in Florida was $12.36 in 2009.

Educational Programs
Indian River State College

Professional Associations
American Psychiatric Association
Mental Health America

Mental health technicians/aides work with emotionally disturbed or mentally impaired individuals, usually in psychiatric hospitals or mental health clinics. They work as members of interdisciplinary teams of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, registered nurses, and others. In general, mental health aides help patients with personal grooming and participation in educational, recreational, and therapeutic activities. They may interact with patients and spend more time with patients than any other team members.

Mental Health Technician/ Aide

Mental health technicians have more formal training than aides. Technicians participate in both the planning and implementing of individual patient treatment plans. They may be responsible for admitting and interviewing patients, record keeping, assisting in administration of medication, and conducting therapy sessions. Mental health technicians and aides need to have good observation skills. They must recognize and report changes in behavior of patients to other team members. Personal characteristics that are important for this job are a stable personality, ability to work well with people and the motivation to help others.

Areas of Specialization
There are a number of opportunities for specialization in a particular aspect of mental health care. The mental health technician/aide may specialize in helping mentally disturbed children. Others may work in drug and alcohol abuse or crisis intervention. Another area of specialization is working in community mental health. These technicians may be primarily concerned with parental effectiveness, the elderly, or problems dealing with interpersonal relationships. With additional training, they may work with mentally retarded people.

Work Environment
Mental health technicians/aides work in a wide variety of settings including mental hospitals, community general hospitals, community mental health centers, psychiatric clinics, schools for mentally retarded, social service agencies, geriatric nursing homes, child or adolescent centers, and halfway houses. They generally work a 40-hour week. Because patients need care 24 hours a day, scheduled work hours may include nights, weekends, and holidays. They will spend most of their time on their feet. They are sometimes confronted with violent patients who must be restrained. This may be emotionally draining, but they may also gain satisfaction from assisting those in need.

Job Outlook
The number of mental health aides employed in Florida in 2006 was 2,537. It is projected that in 2014 there will be 2,843. This represents an annual average growth rate of 1.5 percent.

Length of Training/Requirements
High school courses that would be helpful for this occupation include psychology, social science, hygiene, art, and music. Post secondary education is needed to work as a technician and can be obtained in vocational technical centers and community colleges. The program includes courses in mental health/illness theory, communication skills, crisis intervention, psychotropic medications, substance abuse, and employment skills. The training programs may be one year or more. Mental health aides must acquire 450 hours of on-the-job training.

If not supervised directly by clinicians, aides are supervised by technicians, for whom ascending grade and supervision levels may exist depending on level of certification and the employing agency. Additional training will be required for significant advancement. Many students pursue a four-year college degree in special education, social work, psychology, and sociology.

Updated: 2009