By Juliet Gomez, Psychiatric Technician
California State Prison, Sacramento
I sat fidgeting on my chair during the grueling jury selection at the El Dorado County Superior Court. Finally, my turn came and I watched the defense lawyer’s eyes speed-read my qualifications on a piece of paper. He asked me, “What is a Psych Tech?”
Throughout my 20-year career as a Psych Tech, I’ve repeatedly asked this question. With everyone’s eyes on me, I decided quickly whether to give them the long or the short answer. I chose the latter.
“It’s like an Licensed Vocational Nurse but with more psych background,” I said.
My description seemed to be sufficient. But I couldn’t help thinking that at least one person that day might have been curious enough to Google it afterward.
Defining the job isn’t easy
A Psych Tech is defined as “a mental health professional normally working under the direction of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. They provide hands-on direct care to developmentally or emotionally disabled people, as well as those diagnosed with mental illnesses.”
Psychiatric Technician (Safety), as defined by the California Correctional Health Care Services, works “under general supervision to provide basic level of general behavior and psychiatric nursing care and is expected through attitude, knowledge and performance to facilitate the rehabilitation of inmates or parolees.”
Psych Techs play important role
Working as a Psych Tech at CSP-Sacramento for over seven years has reinforced my belief that we are an integral part of the medical team. Not only do we give patients their medications each day, but we provide education at each med pass.
We strive to answer any questions the incarcerated patients might have about their medications. Because of our frequent on-the-job interactions with those in our care, we are also one of the first to know if they are experiencing medication side effects or other medical emergencies. In addition, we get valuable feedback as to the efficacy of their medication regime.
Medical and Psychiatric Clinicians value our input and incorporate them to create the best treatment plans for the incarcerated patients. During Psych rounds, we look closely for any evidence of changing conditions and behaviors and are often the first to alert the various disciplines about specific issues.
At groups, Psych Techs provide a curriculum that centers on coping skills for both members of the incarcerated population serving time, and also for those that are soon to be released into the community. Psych Techs in Corrections are also trained First Responders and are first on the scene to provide emergency medical response/treatment.
Contributing to rehabilitation
I believe that a Psych Tech’s job in Corrections is multi-faceted. Ultimately, we help achieve California Correctional Health Care Services’ goal: rehabilitation for our prison population.
Psych Techs are employed at various prisons nationwide. Work advancement is foreseeable as some Psych Techs promote to Senior Psych Techs and even Unit Supervisors.
The job can be very rewarding. Our contribution is confirmed when a visually impaired patient gets teary-eyed out of gratitude after a Psych Tech goes above and beyond to expedite the processing of his eyeglasses. Or when a Psych Tech’s help is summoned after many failed attempts to convince a patient to do important lab work and he complies. Or when a developmentally disabled person who can’t read begins enunciating his first words with help from another patient and a Psych Tech.
It’s in those moments we realize this profession, with its goals and responsibilities, is more than a regular job. Being a Psych Tech is indeed a calling to bring out the best in the lives of our patients.