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Home > Articles > Explore the Challenges and Rewards of a Career as a Psychiatric Aide

Explore the Challenges and Rewards of a Career as a Psychiatric Aide

By Candice Mancini
Published on December 7, 2009.

Job Duties

Psychiatric aides, also known as mental health assistants or psychiatric nursing assistants, work with a team of other professionals to care for patients with mental impairments or emotional disturbances. In addition to psychiatric aides, this team consists of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, and therapists. Jobs duties specific to psychiatric aides include:

  • Playing games with patients
  • Participating in group activities with patients, including going on field trips
  • Observing patients and creating reports on behaviors
  • Accompanying patients to and from therapy/treatment
  • Helping patients with dressing, bathing, grooming, and eating

Psychiatric aides spend a lot of time with patients, and therefore often have a significant ability to influence them in their outlook and treatment.

Job Skills

Psychiatric aides must have caring, nurturing personalities. Because individuals who have mental or emotional impairments can seem unreasonable to others, those who work with them must be extremely patient and level-headed. Strong interpersonal communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively is also important, because of the team structure of psychiatric care. It is helpful for psychiatric aides to be physically fit, and they must be in good health. Many states require psychiatric aides to show proof of negative tests for tuberculosis and other diseases.

Income

According to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2008 median wage for psychiatric aides was $12.77 per hour, or $26,560 per year. Wages ranged from $8.35 per hour, or $17,360 per year, up to $18.77 per hour, or $39,030 per year. The highest mean salaries, between $28,480 and $28,830 per year, went to those working for employment services and hospitals.

Training and Education

Most employers require their psychiatric aides to have a high school diploma or equivalent, although specific qualifications vary by employer and by state. Look into earning your online high school diploma if you need to take that first step. Training to become a psychiatric aide can be obtained at high schools, vocational-technical learning centers, some nursing homes, and some community or junior colleges. Courses can be taken through online schools as well, and should include the following:

  • Body mechanics
  • Nutrition
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Infection control
  • Communication skills
  • Resident rights

Some employers provide classroom instruction to new psychiatric aides. while others require their aides to have already obtained this instruction through an educational facility or previous employer.

Employment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of psychiatric aides work in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals. But as the need to cut costs exacerbates the trend for treating psychiatric patients outside of hospitals continues, jobs are expected to shift more in the direction of residential facilities.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes little or no change in employment of psychiatric aides between 2006 and 2016, even as employment in the related occupations of nursing and home health aides is expected to grow dramatically (18 percent for nursing aides and 49 percent for home health aides). For psychiatric aides, the projected employment for 2016 is the same as 2006 employment: 62,000 employees.

About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.
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