Prospective psychiatric technicians can gather personal experience in this field in a number of ways. You can apply for a job as a nurse's aide at a local general hospital. In this way you gain direct experience providing patient care. If such a job requires too much of a time commitment, you might consider volunteering at a hospital part-time or during the summer. Volunteering is an excellent way to become acquainted with the field, and many techs' full-time jobs evolve from volunteer positions. Most volunteers must be 21 years of age to work in the mental health unit. Younger students who are interested in volunteering can often find places in the medical records department or other areas to get their feet in the door.
People interested in this career might also consider volunteering at their local mental health association or a local social welfare agency. In some cases, the mental health association can arrange opportunities for volunteer work inside a mental hospital or mental health clinic. Finally, either on your own or with your teachers, you can arrange a visit to a mental health clinic. You may be able to talk with staff members and observe firsthand how psychiatric technicians do their jobs.
Psychiatric technicians not only take over for or assist professionals in traditional treatment activities, but they also provide new services in innovative ways. They may work with alcohol and drug abusers, psychotic or emotionally disturbed children and adults, developmentally disabled people, or the aged. They must be skilled and specially trained.
Psychiatric technicians are supervised by health professionals, such as registered nurses, counselors, therapists, or, more and more frequently, senior psychiatric technicians. Psychiatric technicians work as part of a team of mental health care workers and provide physical and mental rehabilitation for patients through recreational, occupational, and psychological readjustment programs.
In general, psychiatric technicians help plan and implement individual treatment programs. Specific duties vary according to work setting, but they may include the following: interviewing and information gathering; working in a hospital unit admitting, screening, evaluating, or discharging patients; record keeping; making referrals to community agencies; working for patients' needs and rights; visiting patients at home after their release from a hospital; and participating in individual and group counseling and therapy.
Psychiatric technicians endeavor to work with patients in a broad, comprehensive manner and to see each patient as a person whose peculiar or abnormal behavior stems from an illness or disability. They strive to help each patient achieve a maximum level of functioning. This means helping patients strengthen social and mental skills, accept greater responsibility, and develop confidence to enter into social, educational, or vocational activities.
In addition, psychiatric technicians working in hospitals handle a certain number of nursing responsibilities. They may take temperature, pulse and respiration rates; measure blood pressure; and help administer medications and physical treatments. In many cases, technicians working in hospitals will find themselves concerned with all aspects of their patients' lives—from eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene to developing social skills and improving self-image.
Technicians working in clinics, community mental health centers, halfway houses, day hospitals, or other non-institutional settings also perform some specialized tasks. They interview newly registered patients and their relatives and visit patients and their families at home. They also administer psychological tests, participate in group activities, and write reports about their observations for supervising psychiatrists or other mental health professionals. They try to ease the transition of patients leaving hospitals and returning to their communities. They may refer patients to and arrange for consultations with mental health specialists. They may also help patients resolve problems with employment, housing, and personal finance.
Most psychiatric technicians are trained as generalists in providing mental health services. But some opportunities exist for technicians to specialize in a particular aspect of mental health care. For example, some psychiatric technicians specialize in the problems of mentally disturbed children. Others work as counselors in drug and alcohol abuse programs or as members of psychiatric emergency or crisis-intervention teams.
Another area of emphasis is working in community mental health. Technicians employed in this area are sometimes known as human services technicians. They use rehabilitation techniques for non-hospitalized patients who have problems adjusting to their social environment. These technicians may be primarily concerned with drug and alcohol abuse, parental effectiveness, the elderly, or problems in interpersonal relationships. Human services technicians work in social welfare departments, child care centers, preschools, vocational rehabilitation workshops, and schools for the learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, and mentally handicapped. This concentration is particularly popular in college curricula, according to the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians, although it has yet to find wide acceptance in the job market.
With slightly different training, psychiatric technicians may specialize in the treatment of developmentally disabled people. These technicians, sometimes referred to as DD techs, work with patients with such activities as supervising recreational activities or teaching patients basic skills. They generally work in halfway houses, state hospitals, training centers, or state and local service agencies. These jobs are among the easiest psychiatric technician jobs to get, and many techs start out in this area. On average, however, the pay of the DD tech is considerably less than that of other psychiatric technicians.