How to Become a Forensic Therapist

Overview

Forensic therapy is the treatment of violent patients who have committed aggressive offenses. Forensic counselors and forensic psychotherapists provide mental health and substance abuse therapy within the justice system. The job of forensic therapists is to treat offenders in both civil and criminal cases while protecting the public. They may also be called upon to help families and crime victims. Therapy is often ordered by the court, and may relate to issues pertaining to parole, probation and law enforcement. Forensic therapists may be asked to act as an expert to evaluate situations and contribute information relating to the justice system. Forensic psychology is one of several specialty certifications offered by the American Board of Professional Psychology. A variety of certifying organizations set clinical guidelines and standards of practice for treatment.

Work Environment

Forensic therapists are treatment providers who administer psychological interventions and treatments to defendants and convicted criminals. As correctional psychologists, they work with inmates and offenders in a correctional setting. They may also work in psychiatric hospitals, mental health centers or in private practice, and they may help victims and families overcome psychological trauma. Forensic therapists may function as a trial consultant and provide information to judges making judicial decisions. They may assess the risk of future problems, evaluate the credibility of a witness, or explain mitigating factors for a defendant. Lawyers sometimes call upon them for assistance in jury selection and to testify as an expert witness. They may also assist in building a case by anticipating lines of questioning at trial. A forensic psychologist sometimes works with police departments to train and evaluate staff and provide criminal profiles.

Related Reading: How to Become a Family Therapist

Requirements

Education

A bachelor’s degree is required for a career in forensic psychology, and for psychologists graduate work is a must. The highest paid forensic professionals hold a doctorate degree in psychology. Course work focuses on enabling students to identify mentally ill individuals and interact with them effectively, intervene in a crisis situation and evaluate the impact of crime on the victim and on the community as a whole.

Undergraduate Programs

Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees in Forensic Psychology. It may be a good idea to pursue a double major on the undergraduate level in psychology and criminology. Most undergraduate programs take four years to complete. Kaplan University offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Forensic Psychology. This 180 credit course is designed to prepare students for a career in law enforcement. The program includes general education requirements to develop critical thinking, technology and communication skills. Coursework focuses on psychology in law enforcement, crisis intervention techniques and abnormal psychology.

Graduate Programs

Schools like the Chicago School of Professional Psychology offer a master’s degree program for forensic psychology. The special area of interest in corrections teaches students to apply forensic psychology principles to address issues in a correctional setting. Students gain a broader perspective by delving into the impact of public policy. The program may include topics like violence and risk assessment, evaluation and treatment options for adults and juveniles, forensic psychology in a correctional setting and cultural aspects of aggression.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, is renowned for undergraduate and graduate programs in forensic psychology. The Doctoral Program offers two tracks, Clinical and Psychology and the Law. The school also offers an 18 credit certificate in forensic psychology for those with a master’s or doctoral degree who wish to specialize in topics including psychological assessment, family violence and victims, counseling and psychotherapy, and testimony. There is also an addiction studies program.

Licensing

All states require a license for psychologists, and counseling psychologists need a doctorate degree in psychology, an internship and 1-2 years of professional experience. They then have to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. State requirements can be found from the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards. Licensed psychologists must complete continuing education courses to keep their licenses in many states.

Certification

To become a certified forensic psychologist obtain an application at the American Board of Forensic Psychology website. Transcripts are sent directly to the American Board of Forensic Psychology. Upon receipt and acceptance of the application, applicants take the written examination, which consists of 200 questions in seven categories. The written test takes 3.5 hours to complete. There is also a written and an oral examination.

Salary

The annual median wages for  psychologists is $88,400, according to the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics employment for psychologists is expected to grow a 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than for other occupations.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Forensic therapists must have excellent communication and observational skills. They study the possible meanings of people’s facial expressions, body positions, and actions. They should also have good problem-solving and analytical skills, be patient and have the ability to work well with their patients.

Related Reading

Further Reading

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