What Is a Mental Health Technician?

A group therapy session

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Mental health technicians—also called psychiatric technicians or behavioral health technicians—are key players in a mental health treatment team, working directly with patients who are coping with disabilities, illnesses, or substance use. They often work in collaboration with physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, and counselors as part of a treatment team.

There are various levels of certification, ranging from those with a high school diploma to people who have a bachelor's degree plus work experience. Depending on your skill level and goals, you can determine your ideal position on a treatment team.

This article discusses what mental health technicians do and the training requirements needed to work in this field.

What Does a Mental Health Tech Do?

If you or someone you love is coping with a mental health issue, you may work with a mental health tech as part of an overall treatment plan. Mental health technicians are employed in a variety of settings, including outpatient mental health facilities as well as long-term care facilities for both adults and children.

Mental health techs wear many hats, with responsibilities such as:

  • Administering prescribed medication
  • Being available for patients who need to talk
  • Checking vital signs and behavior patterns
  • Filling out admittance forms for new patients
  • Leading therapeutic or recreational activities

There's no single treatment approach when it comes to mental health techs. Instead, the tech's approach with patients most often reflects the philosophy of the facility at which they're employed.

Recap

Mental health techs work directly with people who are being treated for mental health concerns. They fill a range of roles, from admitting patients to healthcare facilities to assisting with therapeutic activities.

Training Requirements for a Mental Health Tech

In some jurisdictions, mental health techs need no particular education beyond a high school diploma. Traditionally, employers have provided classroom instruction and on-the-job training to develop the relevant skills. However, this is slowly changing. Many employers now require college coursework in psychology or social work. A few even require a bachelor’s degree.

There are four levels of certification for mental health techs, according to the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians:

  • Level 1: A high school diploma or GED
  • Level 2: At least 480 hours of any kind of college or university courses, plus work in the field for at least one year
  • Level 3: At least 960 hours of any kind of college or university courses, plus work in the field for at least two years
  • Level 4: A bachelor's degree in a subject related to mental health or developmental disabilities, plus work in the field for at least three years

As an entry-level position, the mental health tech generally has little opportunity for specialization. Instead, techs tend to choose the work locations that suit them best, from halfway houses to clinics. Techs may also choose to work in chemical dependency units or schools for people with developmental disabilities. Trying several different jobs can help guide you to further studies and specialized education.

Regardless of certifications, excellent relationship skills and problem-solving abilities are essential. Mental health techs must be flexible, adaptable, and able to think quickly. And given the scope of work and population of people you'll be meeting daily, it's important to bring patience, compassion, and good listening skills to your role.

Recap

The minimum entry-level requirement to become a mental health technician is a high school diploma or GED. University coursework, job experiences, or a bachelor's degree in a related field can lead to more advanced job opportunities.

Where Does a Mental Health Tech Work?

People who work in this field often work in a variety of settings. They may be referred to by job titles including mental health technician, psychiatric technician, or behavioral health technician.

Common settings where mental health technicians are employed include psychiatric hospitals, residential mental health facilities, and other healthcare settings. Because many mental healthcare facilities operate 24 hours a day, technicians often work evening shifts, night shifts, weekends, and holidays.

How to Find a Mental Health Technician Job

Career opportunities for mental health technicians are growing. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were more than 82,800 psychiatric technicians in 2019, and the number of jobs is expected to grow 13%—considered much faster than average—by 2029.

In 2020, mental health techs made an annual median wage of $35,030, with the lowest 10% making less than $24,960 and the highest taking home more than $59,020. Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals paid the best, followed by state governments and residential facilities.

Mental Health Technician vs. Mental Health Aide

Though the names may sound similar and they usually work in the same facilities, a mental health aide helps with more day-to-day tasks, including transportation, personal hygiene assistance like bathing, and serving meals. Aides typically require no more than a high school diploma or GED for the job, earning a median wage of $31,570.

Whether you choose to go the technician or aide route, it's important to keep in mind that many of these jobs are located in hospitals or 24-hour facilities, which could mean working weekends, nights, and holidays.

Summary

Mental health technicians are also known as psychiatric technicians or behavioral health technicians. They play an important role in mental health treatment, serving a variety of roles in the direct care of people experiencing mental health problems, illnesses, or disabilities. 

While the minimum training required to enter the field is a high school diploma or GED, earning a degree or getting additional training and certification can open up job opportunities and higher salaries.

Mental health techs are employed in a variety of areas, which may include hospitals, private clinics, and residential care settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the difference between a mental health technician and a behavioral health technician?

    A mental health technician and behavioral health technician are interchangeable job titles. The exact title used may depend on the employer or state guidelines. Some professionals are also referred to as psychiatric technicians.

  • How long does it take to become a BHT?

    You do not need to have a postsecondary degree or certification to become a behavioral health technician. A minimum of a high school diploma or GED is required. If you are interested in advancing in the field, a four-year degree in a behavioral health subject can help you find more employment opportunities and higher pay.

  • Is a certification required to become a mental health tech?

    No, a certification isn’t required to start as a mental health tech. If you are looking to grow into a higher-level position, a mental health technician certification is required. Certifications are also available, which allow people to become Certified Mental Health Technicians (CMHT) and Certified Behavioral Health Technicians (CBHT). However, these titles and certification requirements vary by state, so check with your state's licensing and certification boards to learn more.

  • How much money does a certified mental health technician make?

    While earnings vary depending on variables such as geographic location, employment sector, and years of experience, the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the mean annual wage for mental health technicians is $38,000 per year.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Association of Psychiatric Technicians. The certification process. 2021.

  2. United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychiatric Technicians and AidesOccupational Outlook Handbook.

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational employment and wages, May 2021: 29-2053 Psychiatric technicians.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.