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What Does a Psychiatric Assistant Do?

A psychiatric assistant may work in a mental hospital.
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  • Written By: G. D. Palmer
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 09 August 2014
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A psychiatric assistant is a trained mental health professional who has more responsibility than an orderly but less than a doctor. Psychiatric assistants care for and monitor patients in institutional settings, such as mental health hospitals and group homes. They might administer medication or therapy but typically cannot write prescriptions.

Psychiatric assistants enable mental health institutions to provide services even for patients who cannot take care of themselves. Workers in this position escort patients through their facilities, guiding people who have mobility or directional problems. They provide day-to-day care and instruction on basic living functions, such as bathing, grooming, dressing and eating.

Also known as psychiatric aides, psychiatric nursing assistants or mental health assistants, these workers might socialize with patients and provide recreational or educational activities. Examples include playing sports, board games or cards with patients, accompanying them on field trips and watching television with them. These mental health specialists might also conduct patient group therapy sessions.

A psychiatric assistant must be prepared for crises or emergency situations. People in this occupation need a basic level of strength and physical fitness, because they might be called upon to physically restrain patients who have severe mental illnesses. A psychiatric assistant also must be prepared to intervene in patient crises, monitor patient behavior for signs of problems and maintain patient safety.

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Under the supervision of a doctor, psychiatrist or other mental health specialist, a psychiatric assistant might administer medication. He or she must also monitor the patients' progress, taking down and reporting information for doctors. Although psychiatric assistants can assess this data and report their findings to doctors, they typically do not have the authority to make decisions about patient treatment plans on their own.

This job can involve many tasks that might be considered unpleasant, such as changing bedpans, incontinence garments or dirty linens. Psychiatric assistant positions require workers to stay on their feet for hours at a time and might involve very long shifts. People in this position are frequently at risk of injury and both minor and major diseases. Regular testing and vaccination can help prevent work-related health problems.

Becoming a psychiatric assistant requires at least a high school diploma or the equivalent and might require a college degree. Educational requirements might vary according to the specific scope of the job and according to regional and local regulations. Some areas might require workers to complete formal training and obtain a certificate in this field. The demand for psychiatric assistants is relatively low, compared with the demand for nursing aides and attendants. These mental health professionals, however, tend to receive slightly higher pay rates than workers in ordinary medical facilities.

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