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How to Become a Psychiatric Aide

written by: Robyn Broyles•edited by: Diana Cooper•updated: 3/31/2009

Learn more about becoming a psychiatric aide, a job with minimal entry requirements that is both emotionally demanding and emotionally rewarding.

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    What is a Psychiatric Aide?

    A psychiatric aide is a member of the treatment team for many mentally ill and developmentally disabled people. Psychiatric aides are also known as mental health assistants or psychiatric nursing assistants. They generally work in inpatient mental health facilities such as psychiatric hospitals, homes for the developmentally disabled, and substance abuse treatment facilities. Some jobs are also available in the psychiatric units of general and surgical hospitals. Psychiatric aides help residents with daily tasks that may be challenging for them to complete by themselves. Part of a psychiatric aide's job is to socialize with their charges, for example by playing games or just watching television with them.

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    What Qualifications are Necessary to Become a Psychiatric Aide?

    Training for psychiatric aides may be found in vocational schools, community colleges, nursing care facilities, and even some high schools. This is an entry-level position and therefore requires minimal formal training. Some employers provide formal training while others provide on-the-job training.

    Psychiatric aides should be emotionally stable, patient, compassionate individuals. The emotional demands of the job are high and the pay is relatively low. The hours may include night and weekend work. Psychiatric residents sometimes display antisocial behavior such as verbal abuse and even violence, which psychiatric aides must be prepared to endure with an understanding attitude. But the job can also be very rewarding, as many people find caring for these vulnerable people to be emotionally satisfying.

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    What is the Outlook for Psychiatric Aides?

    Turnover in this profession is high. This means that psychiatric aides are in demand, since new positions are frequently opening up, but also indicates that there may be a high rate of "burnout." Another reason why psychiatric aides leave the profession is to pursue training for a more advanced career in the health care or mental health field.

    Hourly wages vary widely depending on the type of institution where a psychiatric aide works. In 2006, average earnings ranged from $8.80 to $13.27 per hour, though the highest-earning psychiatric aides earned several dollars more per hour. The highest paid individuals are generally the most experienced. State government facilities paid the most, residential facilities the least, with general and surgical hospitals fallling in between.

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    "Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides ." United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition.