Imagine you’re a doctor or a nurse in a busy inpatient clinic and you have a large number of patients who have a variety of needs. Some of them need to have their vitals taken every hour, while others need medication administered, help with therapy or just to talk to someone about how they feel their treatment has been going. You need a report about the progress Patient A has been making toward outpatient care and the numbers from Patient B’s chart. Then Patient C needs help going for a walk outside, and Patient D feels lonely and needs someone to keep them company. In these cases, a behavioral health technician (BHT) is the first person you can call for help.
Behavioral health technicians are the go-to allied health professionals for the many needs of patient care, from providing direct medical assistance under supervision to giving personal attention for compassionate patient care. BHTs write reports, keep the care team updated on how patients are doing and work in several clinical settings, from inpatient hospitals to halfway houses and even patients’ homes. Where these hardworking team members come from, what they do and how they work with care teams is good to know for anybody thinking of visiting a rehab center or whose loved ones may be under their care already.
What Is a Behavioral Health Technician (BHT)?
Behavioral health technicians are allied health professionals who assist in providing direct patient care in support of a care team’s mission. They help the nursing staff and medical practitioners by doing various patient care tasks, including:
- Administering medications as prescribed
- Recording vital signs
- Updating charts
- Assisting with lift and transfer operations
- Providing impromptu mental health counseling, usually by talking with patients and offering emotional support if needed
- Assisting during physical, occupational and mental health therapy sessions
- Observing and documenting patients’ behavior and voiced concerns about care and other issues that arise as part of treatment
The role BHTs play in patient care is fluid. As a jack-of-all-trades concerning patient care, BHTs always have something to do, and the care they provide is different each day.
Where Do BHTs Work?
BHTs work in many care settings. Technicians usually work under direct supervision on hospital care teams and at inpatient care clinics. BHTs are indispensable support for people in rehabilitation centers, outpatient care and homes. Because of the wide variety of roles BHTs perform in patient care, they can work in any care setting where people need assistance.
A Day in the Life of a BHT
Behavioral health technicians can work many shift schedules, from 40-hour weeks to 12-hour shifts every other day to 4-10 schedules. It’s typical for BHTs to arrive at work and check in with the charge nurse to find out if there are any emergencies. After the shift change, which usually takes around 15 minutes, BHTs check in with all patients.
What does a behavioral health tech do? BHTs can assist with meal service or schedule appointments with doctors. Depending on patients’ care plans, BHTs can help with physical therapy or observe patient behaviors. It’s common for BHTs in a residential facility to accompany patients on a trip to a medical office and back again. Near the end of the shift, they may update charts and complete reports about developments that happened during the day. At the end of a shift, BHTs may be expected to brief the incoming shift about patient care issues.
How Do You Become a BHT?
Though BHT job descriptions usually list the role as entry level, the role requires a lot of training. There are also special requirements candidates have to meet before starting the job. Applicants for BHTs must:
- Be 18 or older
- Have a high school diploma
- Pass a Department of Justice background and FBI fingerprint check
- Complete an approved training course before examinations
BHT training requirements vary from state to state, but they generally require a student to enroll in an approved school for psychiatric technicians and successfully complete the certification course. Full accreditation typically requires 550-600 hours of academic coursework and 900-1,000 hours of clinical experience.
Arkansas, California and Colorado require BHTs to keep and carry a current license to care for people with disabilities and mental illnesses. These certifications are different in each state, as are the requirements to qualify for the licensure exam. In Kansas, BHTs are divided into licensed and unlicensed roles, with different job duties in state-funded facilities. Other states may have few or nonexistent requirements, though individual employers may set credential standards of their own, usually through a private body such as the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians.
Career Path After Being a BHT
The job of a behavioral health technician is rewarding on its own, but many people use it as the entry point to a long-term career in mental health services. With an additional two years of training, a BHT can move into a related certified field, such as:
- Alcohol and Drug Counselor
- Eligibility Worker
- Housing Coordinator
- Mental Health Worker
- Outreach Specialist
- Social Service Assistant
With a four-year degree program, a BHT can move into paraprofessional fields, such as:
- Assistant Behavioral Analyst
- Behavioral Health Specialist
- Care Coordinator
- Case Manager
- Child Welfare Worker
- Music Therapist
- Outreach Specialist
- Vocational Rehabilitation Worker
Beyond the bachelor’s degree, people who started out as BHTs can move into professional fields, such as:
- Licensed Educational Psychologist
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
- Mental Health Clinician
- Social Worker
- Behavioral Analyst
- Mental Health Clinician/Therapist
- Program Director/Manager/Administrator
- School Psychologist
Future Employment Prospects for BHTs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts an increase in BHT jobs of 9% by 2031, which is above average for all occupations. The 9% increase is approximately 16,500 new jobs for BHTs, psychiatric technicians and other mental health technicians each year through the next decade to 2031.
What Does It Take to Be a Good Behavioral Health Technician?
It takes a special person to become a behavioral health technician. Successful candidates should be compassionate and patient, willing to learn and apply new lessons and reliable in stressful situations. They should be ambitious about continuing their education and gaining clinical experience to provide competent and caring patient services. See FHE Health’s career opportunities here.
If you or a person you care for is struggling with mental health or addiction issues, BHTs and other professionals are available to help. Contact us at FHE Health, and let our compassionate team of counselors tell you about our recovery programs.