Forensic psychologists and psychiatrists have other roles as well. They are used to evaluate a criminal defendant and assess whether he or she is competent to stand trial. They also might help a judge determine if there should be a change of venue for a trial. They work with witnesses to help restore lost memories; they assist in establishing a jury favorable to whichever side has hired the specialist; and they provide behavioral profiles to help law enforcement agencies track down and arrest criminals.
Forensic specialists also help establish guidelines for fair lineups. Or they help a worker's compensation panel determine if vocational rehabilitation plans are feasible.
Broadly defined, clinical psychology is concerned with the assessment and treatment of persons with mental disorders. Clinical-forensic psychologists are clinical psychologists who specialize in the assessment and/or treatment of persons who are involved in the legal process or legal system.
Forensic psychiatry is a subspecialty of medicine. It includes practice, consultation, and research in the areas in which psychiatry is applied to legal issues.
A broad range of legal issues is addressed by forensic psychology and psychiatry. In family and domestic relations laws, issues include juvenile delinquency, child custody and visitation, parental fitness, children's need of supervision, abrogation of parental rights, spouse abuse, child neglect, abandonment of children, and adoption and foster care.
In criminal law, issues include the patient's competence to stand trial, to waive legal representation, to be sentenced, to be executed, and whether or not to consider guilty by reason of mental illness or diminished responsibility and innocence by reason of mental disease or mental defect.
Civil issues include involuntary psychiatric hospitalization; rights to refuse treatment; informed consent; competence to participate in do-not-resuscitate decisions; capacity to testify; competence to become engaged, married, or divorced; contractual capacity; disability compensation; and medical malpractice confidentiality.
Forensic psychologists and psychiatrists may work in secure forensic units in state forensic hospitals, community mental health centers providing specialized services, court clinics, juvenile treatment centers, jails, prisons, specialized agencies, or in private practice conducting forensic evaluation and treatment relevant to legal decision-making. It is rare, though, that a psychologist or psychiatrist in private practice limits the practice to only forensic work.
They may also be involved in teaching, training, or supervision in a department of psychology, a medical school, a hospital, an interdisciplinary institute, or a clinic.
Some professionals may also be involved in conducting research and scholarship in areas such as violence risk assessment, treatment needs and response, and decision-making strategies.
Some psychologists and psychiatrists may receive more extensive training in law and earn a J.D. (Juris Doctor) or M.L.S. (Master of Legal Studies) in addition to their training and degrees in psychology or psychiatry. These professionals involve themselves in areas of law relevant to the behavioral sciences and may work in law schools as well as in other academic, medical, or other applied settings as mentioned earlier.
In addition to teaching law, they also may become involved in research or clinical practice (depending on their specialization) or legal practice as an attorney.
Psychologist II (Senior Ranking)
The Forensic Psychiatry Program of a Canadian hospital is seeking a Psychologist II. Reporting to the program manager, the selected candidate will carry out advanced professional duties as assigned, including clinical assessment and treatment of patients, program evaluation, research, and teaching. He or she will work in an interdisciplinary setting, liaise with outside agencies and professionals, and work with a degree of independence within broad guidelines and in accordance with hospital and professional standards.
A doctoral degree from an accredited clinical psychology training program is preferred, with completion of a psychology internship and at least two years of experience in a forensic mental health setting. Good communication skills and the ability to work in an interdisciplinary environment are required.
Applicants should be advised that a background check (criminal record) will be conducted.
State prison is seeking a Forensic Psychologist to develop institutional policies and a treatment program for offenders based on psychological theory and research, within the prison service.
Typical work activities include undertaking research projects to evaluate the contribution of specific initiatives within the prison; evaluating research and statistical data; counseling offenders to manage depression, anger, anxiety, and other presenting problems; delivering special group or therapy programs such as sex offender programs and training/counseling of prison officers; and assessing 'lifers' throughout. Additional self-employment/freelance work is possible.
Must have a Ph.D. in forensic psychology. Range of typical starting salaries: $30,000-$46,000.
Inpatient Forensic Psychiatrist
Unique clinical and clinical academic opportunities for inpatient civil and forensic psychiatrist(s) in a state-of-the-art, university-affiliated, public psychiatric hospital.
Positions are flexible, depending on applicant's interests, experience, and training. Solid diagnostic and psychopharmacologic abilities are required. Experience is desired in one or more of the following areas: SPMI, MICA/drug abuse, forensics, or geriatric psychiatry.
Positions feature: very reasonable workload, forty-hour workweek, flexible schedule, minimal to no on-call duty, paid extra-service option, treatment of challenging patients in the context of a multidisciplinary team, time to carefully diagnose/treat without the pressures of managed care, and an extremely attractive work setting working with bright, professional, pleasant, and supportive colleagues and a supportive administration.
Positions also offer: weekly faculty-led case conferences, residency/fellowship didactics, and CME (all on-site).
There is potential for: academic appointment at the university medical center, resident teaching in the Long-Term Care Program, involvement in a forensic fellowship known for training excellence, as well as research participation (schizophrenia, SPMI, psychiatric service delivery, psychopharmacology, forensics, psychophysiology).
Benefits include competitive salary, retirement program, tax deferred savings plan, four weeks' paid vacation after one year, twelve paid holidays per year, excellent medical coverage, free dental/optical coverage, on-site day care, and employee assistance program.
TRAINING FOR FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGISTS AND PSYCHIATRISTS
Forensic psychologists major in psychology or a related behavioral science during the first four years of college. They then go on for one to two years of training for a master's degree, or go straight through for a total of four to six postgraduate years to obtain a Ph.D. in psychology.
Some psychologists then go on to take postdoctoral fellowship training in forensic psychology. Some forensic psychologists do independent study and obtain on-the-job training in forensic psychology. They then apply to the American Board of Forensic Psychology for certification through examination.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (M.D.s) who have completed twelve years of education including college, medical school, and residency training in psychiatry. Forensic psychiatrists also have additional education and experience in areas relevant for the law.
Some forensic psychiatrists take additional one or two years of post-residency training in psychiatry and the law. Others follow some independent study and on-the-job training.
Psychiatrists who have passed a series of examinations are then certified by The American Board of Forensic Psychiatry (ABFP).
Sample Program in Forensic Psychology
What follows is meant as an example of what a typical B.A. or B.S. program at a hypothetical college in forensic psychology would encompass.
The forensic psychology major is designed for students who are interested in the relationship between psychology and the criminal justice system. The program offers training in psychological theory, research methods, and the application of psychological principles to specific areas in the legal system. The major provides an interdisciplinary background appropriate for students who intend to pursue careers in psychology, social work, law enforcement, or other criminal justice professions.
Internship Program: Students can receive practical experience in forensic psychology by enrolling in the internship program, which offers fieldwork placements in such settings as hospitals for emotionally disturbed offenders, prisons, and agencies related to the family court.
SAMPLE BACHELOR'S-LEVEL COURSES
Courses can run the gamut from introductory psychology to higher-level courses in anthropology, sociology, government, economics, and the law:
Psychology and the Law
Principles and Methods of Statistics
Ethics and Law
The Family: Change, Challenges, and Crisis Intervention
Psychology and Women
Psychology of Adolescence and the Adolescent Offender
Theories of Personality
Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry
Psychology of Alcoholism
Therapeutic Intervention in Alcoholism
Introduction to Counseling Psychology
Key Concepts in Psychotherapy
Drug Use and Abuse in American Society
Social Psychology and the Criminal Justice System
Psychological Foundations of Police Work
Family Conflict and the Family Court
Psychology of Criminal Behavior
Fieldwork in Forensic Psychology
Psychological Analysis of Criminal Behavior
Youth, the Family, and Criminal Justice
Psychology of Oppression
Culture and Personality
Systems of Law
Anthropology and the Abnormal
Techniques in Crisis Intervention
Economic Analysis of Crime
Problems in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Violence and Social Change in America
History of Crime and Punishment in the United States
Crime and Punishment in Literature
Organized Crime in America
Race and Ethnic Relations
Probation and Parole: Principles and Practices
B.A./M.A. Program in Forensic Psychology: Qualified undergraduate students may enter the B.A./M.A. program and graduate with both a bachelor's and a master's degree in forensic psychology.
Although the increase in managed-care systems affects the work of clinicians, those working in forensic areas are largely untouched. The fields of psychology/psychiatry and the law in general have experienced steady growth over the last twenty years. The employment outlook for forensic psychologists and psychiatrists will continue to grow.
Opportunities for people holding doctorates from leading universities in areas with an applied emphasis, such as clinical, counseling, health, and educational psychology, should have particularly good prospects.
Psychologists with extensive training in quantitative research methods and computer science may have a competitive edge over applicants without this background.
Those holding a master's degree may find jobs as psychological assistants in the community mental health field, which often requires direct supervision by a licensed psychologist. Still others may find jobs involving research and data collection and analysis in universities, government, or private companies.
Very few opportunities directly related to psychology will exist for bachelor's degree holders. Some may find jobs as assistants in rehabilitation centers or in other jobs involving data collection and analysis. Those who meet state certification requirements may become high school psychology teachers.
FORENSIC SOCIAL WORK AND MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING
Social workers help people function the best way they can in their environment, deal with their relationships with others, and solve personal and family problems.
Social workers often see clients who face a life-threatening disease or a social problem. These problems may include inadequate housing, unemployment, lack of job skills, financial distress, serious illness or disability, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancy, or antisocial behavior. Social workers also assist families that have serious domestic conflicts, including those involving child or spousal abuse.
Through direct counseling, social workers help clients identify their concerns, consider effective solutions, and find reliable resources.
Social workers typically counsel clients and arrange for services that can help them. Often they refer clients to specialists in services such as debt counseling, childcare or elder care, public assistance, or alcohol or drug rehabilitation. Social workers then follow through with the client to ensure that services are helpful and that clients make proper use of the services offered. Social workers may review eligibility requirements, help fill out forms and applications, visit clients on a regular basis, and provide support during crises.
Social workers who work in courts and correction facilities evaluate and counsel individuals in the criminal justice system to cope better in society. Social workers enter into law-related work with expert testimony on a number of issues including adoption, child custody and visitation, and substance abuse.
Child or adult protective services social workers investigate reports of abuse and neglect and intervene if necessary. They may initiate legal action to remove children from homes and place them temporarily in an emergency shelter or with a foster family.
Criminal justice social workers make recommendations to courts, prepare presentencing assessments, and provide services to prison inmates and their families. Probation and parole officers provide similar services to individuals sentenced by a court to parole or probation.
Mental health social workers and counselors provide services for people with mental or emotional problems. Such services include individual and group therapy, outreach, crisis intervention, social rehabilitation, and training in skills of everyday living. They also may help plan for supportive services to ease patients' return to the community.
Health care social workers help patients and their families cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses and handle problems that may stand in the way of recovery or rehabilitation. They may organize support groups for families of patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, or other illnesses. They also advise family caregivers, counsel patients, and help plan for their needs after discharge by arranging for at-home services-from meals-on-wheels to oxygen equipment. Some work on interdisciplinary teams that evaluate certain kinds of patients-geriatric or organ transplant patients, for example.
Those who go into private practice make up another category of social worker. Most private practitioners are clinical social workers who provide psychotherapy, usually paid through health insurance. Private practitioners typically have at least a master's degree and a period of supervised work experience. A network of contacts for referrals also is essential.
Although mental health counselors do not deal with the criminal justice system as much as social workers do, they still can have contact with it, especially those working in correctional facilities. In general, counselors assist people with personal, family, educational, mental health, and career decisions and problems. Their duties depend on the individuals they serve and the settings in which they work. Many perform the same or similar functions to that of the social worker.
Counselors work in schools, mental health clinics, substance abuse programs, child welfare agencies, domestic violence shelters, rehabilitation clinics, employment centers, vocational training programs, and, of course, prisons, jails, and other criminal justice-related facilities or programs.
Counselors consult and work with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, school nurses, attorneys, police, and social workers.
TRAINING FOR SOCIAL WORKERS AND COUNSELORS
A bachelor's in social work (B.S.W.) degree is the most common minimum requirement to qualify for a job as a social worker; however, majors in psychology, sociology, and related fields may be sufficient to qualify for some entry-level jobs, especially in small community agencies.
Although a bachelor's degree is required for entry into the field, an advanced degree has become the standard for many positions. A master's in social work (M.S.W.) is necessary for positions in health and mental health settings and typically is required for certification for clinical work.
Jobs in public agencies also may require an advanced degree, such as a master's in social service policy or administration. Supervisory, administrative, and staff training positions usually require at least an advanced degree. College and university teaching positions and most research appointments normally require a doctorate in social work (D.S.W.orPh.D.).
As of 1999, the Council on Social Work Education accredited more than 400 B.S.W. programs and 125 M.S.W. programs. The Group for Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work listed 63 doctoral programs for Ph.D.'s in social work or D.S.W.s (Doctor of Social Work). B.S.W. programs prepare graduates for direct service positions such as caseworker or group worker. They include courses in social work practice, social welfare policies, human behavior and the social environment, social research methods, social work values and ethics, dealing with a culturally diverse clientele, promotion of social and economic justice, and populations-at-risk. Accredited B.S.W. programs require at least four hundred hours of supervised field experience.
Master's degree programs prepare graduates for work in their chosen field of concentration and continue to develop their skills to perform clinical assessments, to manage large caseloads, and to explore new ways of drawing upon social services to meet the needs of clients.
Master's programs last two years and include nine hundred hours of supervised field instruction or internship. A part-time program may take four years. Entry into a master's program does not require a bachelor's in social work, but courses in psychology, biology, sociology, economics, political science, history, social anthropology, urban studies, and social work are recommended. In addition, a second language can be very helpful.
Most master's programs offer advanced standing for those with a bachelor's degree from an accredited social work program.
Formal education is necessary to gain employment as a counselor. About six out of ten counselors have a master's degree; fields of study include college student affairs, elementary or secondary school counseling, education, gerontological counseling, marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, agency or community counseling, clinical mental health counseling, counseling psychology, career counseling, and related fields.
Graduate-level counselor education programs in colleges and universities usually are in departments of education or psychology. Courses are grouped into eight core areas: human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, helping relationships, group work, career and lifestyle development, appraisal, research and program evaluation, and professional orientation.
In an accredited program, forty-eight to sixty semester hours of graduate study, including a period of supervised clinical experience in counseling, are required for a master's degree.
In 1999, 133 institutions offered programs in counselor education, including career, community, gerontological, mental health, school, student affairs, and marriage and family counseling that were accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Another organization, the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), accredits graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling. Accredited master's degree programs include a minimum of two years of full-time study, including six hundred hours of supervised clinical internship experience.
In 1999, forty-five states and the District of Columbia had some form of counselor credentialing, licensure, certification, or registry legislation governing practice outside schools. Requirements vary from state to state. In some states credentialing is mandatory; in others, it is voluntary.
Clinical mental health counselors usually have a master's degree in mental health counseling, another area of counseling, or in psychology or social work. Voluntary certification is available through the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. Generally, to receive certification as a clinical mental health counselor, a counselor must have a master's degree in counseling, two years of post-master's experience, a period of supervised clinical experience, a taped sample of clinical work, and a passing grade on a written examination.
Psychiatric technicians provide nursing and other basic care to mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, or mentally retarded patients. They also work in a forensic capacity with prisoners. (See the firsthand account at the end of this chapter.)
Psychiatric technicians participate in rehabilitation and treatment programs, help with personal hygiene, and administer oral medications and hypodermic injections following a physician's prescriptions and hospital procedures. They monitor a patient's physical and emotional well-being and report to medical staff.
Most psychiatric technicians are trained through postsecondary vocational training programs.
Salaries for forensic psychologists and psychiatrists vary according to the setting and nature of the work. In academic settings, the salary for a beginning assistant professor might be in the $35,000-$40,000 range. Salaries in medical school settings are typically higher, as they are established in comparison with medical professionals.
The American Medical Association provides these average annual salary figures in the different medical specialties. Note that psychiatrists, in spite of their lucrative hourly rates, fall toward the end of the list:
Emergency Medicine $195,000
General Internal Medicine $147,000
General/Family Practice $132,000
Psychiatry professors in medical school settings earn some of their salary by obtaining grants or contracts or through clinical services income.
Even in university and other interdisciplinary settings, however, there is also growing pressure on psychologists to generate sources of salary support.
There are striking differences among the different types of correctional settings. Beginning salaries for psychologists in the federal prison system can be more than $40,000 a year. Salaries are often lower in state correctional facilities or local jails. Some correctional facilities might pay different rates depending on whether the job candidate holds a master's degree or a doctorate.
Currently, a starting salary for a doctoral-level psychologist in a hospital or community clinic setting ranges between $35,000 and $40,000.
Psychologists also are able to establish a part-time practice or consulting business in addition to working with an organization. Part-time private practice allows a psychologist or psychiatrist to earn income at an hourly rate consistent with what others charge in the field and geographic area. Rates can vary a great deal-anywhere between $75 and $250 an hour-depending upon the setting and the geographic location.
Forensic psychologists do not usually provide professional services to parties involved in legal proceedings on a contingency fee basis. Hourly rates or a flat fee is offered for expert testimony and other related services. Some forensic psychologists and psychiatrists, especially those who derive most of their income from forensic work, offer occasional pro bono or reduced rate services.
The average annual salary for psychologists in the federal government was $66,800 early last year. The federal government offers psychologists with a master's degree and one year of experience a starting salary of approximately $31,200. Psychologists with a doctorate and one year of internship could start at $37,800. Some individuals with experience could start at $45,200.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual earnings of social workers were $30,590. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,160 and $39,240. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,250, and the top 10 percent earned more than $49,080.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of medical social workers were:
Home health care services $35,000
Offices and clinics of medical doctors $33,700
Offices of other health care practitioners $32,900
State government, except educationand hospitals $31,800
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of nonmedical social workers were:
Federal government $45,300
Elementary and secondary schools $34,100
Local government, except education and hospitals $32,100
State government, except education and hospitals $30,800
Self-employed counselors who have well-established practices, as well as counselors employed in group practices, usually have the highest earnings, as do some counselors working for private firms, such as insurance companies and private rehabilitation companies.
FIRSTHAND ACCOUNTS William Foote, Forensic Psychologist
William Foote began his work in this field in 1973 when he was employed by the New Mexico State Penitentiary as a psychological counselor. He received his B.A., his master's, and his doctorate, all in psychology, from the University of New Mexico.
He is currently self-employed in his own private practice and has been in private practice for twenty years.
"My interest in forensic psychology started when I worked at the New Mexico State Penitentiary as a counselor. In that position I conducted a number of psychological evaluations and did some psychotherapy with inmates in the prison. I was intrigued by the relatively normal presentation of individuals who had committed very serious crimes. This led me to begin research in that area.
"I had an internship at a maximum security hospital in California in 1976-77 and conducted my doctoral research there. My doctoral research focused on people known as 'psychopaths.' These are individuals who seem relatively normal but have no sense of connection with other people and often commit heinous crimes.
"Subsequently, I began my private practice, which consists of conducting evaluations in both civil and criminal cases. I also qualified as a diplomate by the American Board of Forensic Psychology in 1984. A diplomate is a board certification that recognizes that I am a specialist functioning at a high level of competence in the area of forensic psychology. It is earned by experience and passing a work sample review examination and a difficult oral examination."
WHAT THE WORK IS LIKE
"Forensic psychology is a broad area, generally involving the use of information from a field of psychology in a legal setting. In my own case, forensic psychology refers to the use of clinical psychology in legal matters.
"On the criminal side, I conduct evaluations with individuals who have committed a range of crimes. Some of these evaluations are designed to determine whether the person has enough awareness of what is going on to participate in his or her criminal defense. These are called 'competency to stand trial' evaluations.
"Also, I conduct evaluations to determine whether the person was suffering from such a severe mental disease or disorder at the time he or she committed a crime, that the law does not hold him or her criminally responsible. These are called 'insanity' evaluations. In addition, I conduct evaluations to determine the best course of treatment or incar-ceration for an individual at the time of sentencing.
"I have also worked on a number of death penalty cases in which I had an opportunity to present information to the jury that would cause them to make the penalty more or less severe for the individual. That is, to deliver the death penalty or to choose a less severe alternative such as life in prison."
"I can recall one case in which a girl falsely accused her grandfather of sexually molesting her. My testimony was critical in a not-guilty verdict for him. There are several other cases where an appropriate outcome occurred in the absence of a legal mechanism to get the case there. For example, in one case a woman who was quite insane at the time she committed a dual murder was going to face a trial where she would have very likely been convicted and gone to jail. Through discussions with the defense counsel, the prosecutor, and the judge, we were able to arrange for her to be committed to the state hospital. That was eight years ago, and I recently learned that she had completed her treatment and had just graduated from college.
"Forensic psychological evaluations are complex and take many hours to complete. First, I review records. In criminal cases, these may be police reports, crime scene photos, laboratory results, and witness statements. I also may review school, medical, and psychiatric records of the defendant. Then, I administer a battery of tests to the person. These include personality tests and intelligence measures. I also give some tests to make sure the person is not trying to appear more sick or well than he or she really is. Then, I will talk with the person for two to twelve hours. This allows me to gather a history and learn about the person's problems and strengths. I usually put all of this together in the form of a written report.
"In civil cases, I do a great deal of work in employment discrimination cases, including sexual harassment and cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act. These are very interesting because they involve the interaction between an individual and his or her job. The evaluation process is similar, although in civil cases the records may differ from those reviewed in a criminal case. In civil cases, depositions (sworn testimony taken by a court reporter) are very common. In discrimination cases, employment and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission records also may be important."
THE UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES
"I enjoy my work because I have an opportunity to work with a broad range of individuals. At one end of the spectrum, I work with people who are the very least capable of functioning in our society and must spend most of their lives in prison. At the other end of the spectrum, I work with individuals who have had bad things happen to them, such as automobile accidents. These individuals are often quite normal, but are reacting to extreme circumstances in their lives with their own extreme emotional reactions. It is really nice to have an opportunity to help these people receive proper treatment and to help the judge or jury to understand what has happened to them.
"What I like most about my job is the variety and interest involved in the number of people with whom I am working. What I like least is the tension and stress associated with testifying in court. In this situation there is at least one person in the room who wants to make you look foolish. Preparing sufficiently to withstand cross-examination and to present sometimes complex information to a judge and jury is often difficult. Keeping one's wits and focus during cross-examination is also sometimes hard."
"Salaries for forensic work tend to be about 15 to 20 percent above what is charged by psychotherapists in the community. Most forensic psychologists charge by the hour. A beginning forensic psychologist can expect to earn $40,000 to $60,000 a year, if employed by a state agency. Private forensic practice tends to pay somewhat more."
"Forensic psychologists must have sufficient training in the law to understand legal terms, the legal system, and the language of legal codes and court decisions. Bridging the gap between legal standards and clinical results is the core of the job.
"Another critical part of forensic psychology is translating information from this very specialized field into language that a judge or a jury can understand. This is hard to do at times because our concepts are relatively esoteric and the judges or juries to whom we must communicate this information are relatively unsophisticated. In many ways it is like a teaching job in which educating a group of people is your primary task.
'The forensic psychologist, no matter who hires him or her, is in the court to provide unbiased information to the court. There are pressures from those who hire you to come up with results that support their case. This is a pressure that most experts are aware of and for which they attempt to compensate. However, pressures arise from other sources in ways you might not anticipate. For example, sometimes when dealing with someone who has had bad things happen to him or her, you have to guard against becoming overly sympathetic or gullible.
'The other side of that coin is the temptation to become angry with individuals who have injured or killed helpless people or children. It is only by stepping back and attempting to maintain a neutral perspective that you are able to provide the judge or jury with information that is truly helpful, as opposed to voicing just another biased view.
"Ultimately, forensic psychologists are scientific experts and have to make sure that the quality of their work meets scientific standards. Proper administration of tests, proper interview techniques, and systematic use of documentary sources such as school and medical records are parts of this task.
"Anyone wanting to be a forensic psychologist should begin by obtaining solid training as a clinical psychologist. This means graduating with a bachelor's degree in psychology, followed by a master's and doctor of philosophy degree in clinical psychology.
"Training in psychological testing and interviewing is critical. Many pursue training as a clinical psychologist, then obtain training by way of internship or a postdoctoral fellowship at a penal or clinic setting.
"A number of graduate schools now offer forensic psychology graduate programs. For those wishing to be more fully trained in the law, several universities offer joint degree programs in which you may obtain both a Ph.D. and a law degree at about the same time. If I had it to do over again, I would probably follow that course.
"Forensic psychology is a fascinating and challenging field. It requires the very best of the psychologist's work, both in conducting high-quality evaluations and consultations and in imparting accurate information to the judge and jury. The temperament required of a forensic psychologist is somewhat different than that of most psychologists who do psychotherapy. Forensic psychologists have to be able to think critically, to organize their thinking systematically, and to talk about what they know in terms that anyone can understand.
"It is work that sometimes involves big stakes. Large amounts of money, years in prison, or even a person's life depends upon how well the forensic psychologist does his or her work.
"It is also worked that makes a difference. To make the legal system fairer and better informed makes ours a better society."
Jan Bailey, Psychiatric Technician
Jan Bailey is a licensed psychiatric technician in the forensic unit of Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California. She was trained through a three-year college program and has been working in the field since 1984.
"I have always been interested in what makes people tick. Believing there is some good in everybody, I enjoy helping others.
"I was working as a nurse's aide through a registry service at a private medical hospital. When the hospital ended up short on their psychiatric unit, the director of nurses asked for a volunteer from the registry. No one wanted to go; you could see the fear on their faces. I am only five feet tall and it took a while for the director of nurses to see me waving my hand in the air. Truly she didn't see me until I hollered, 'I will! I'll go to the psych unit.'
"Everyone else breathed a sigh of relief that they didn't have to go, and I got my first introduction to working with psychiatric patients. I loved it from the get-go and decided to enroll in a psychiatric tech program to get my state license.
"It was a three-year college program, including prerequisites for the California Psychiatric Technician program. I passed the state board examination, and my license was then issued under the California Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians.
"Licensure requires thirty continuing education units every two years before you can be granted a renewal. You must take upgrade classes yearly to retain employment at Metropolitan State Hospital, where I work. Also, you must pass special forensic training classes to work inside the forensic compound within the hospital grounds.
"I had always wanted to work for the state at Metropolitan State Hospital because the benefits were very good. The state had a hiring freeze on at that time, so I worked at a private hospital. But I watched the want ads more or less as a hobby. One day I noticed an ad for Metropolitan and I drove immediately to Norwalk and filled out an application. I was hired on the spot and began employment two weeks later.
"Through the years, I have worked in the chronic schizophrenic units and have loved it. But as time went on, I began to take interest in people right there inside the forensic unit who needed understanding professionals to help them. Society tends to look down upon these people.
"I had heard that the forensic units were the wave of the future, and that although these units were more dangerous when there was an altercation, the patients didn't seem to 'go off' as often as did the schizophrenics.
"I began to see forensics as a way to branch out my services as a psych tech. I began volunteering to float to the forensic units whenever they found themselves short of help. Finally I made my decision to go over to the other side of the fence."
WHAT THE WORK IS LIKE
"I work with prisoner patients who are transferred to Metropolitan State Hospital from other hospitals while waiting for their day in court. Many of my patients are supposed to be schizophrenic, and they are there waiting to become competent to stand trial. Indeed, some really are, but most are suspected of malingering or lying so they can serve their sentences in the relative comfort of our ward milieu, rather than await trial inside a jail. The longest we can hold them before trial is three years, and most hope to languish three years with us and then have their charges dropped and be returned to society.
"We don't necessarily have to cure their mental situation, but rather make them understand the charges against them and the workings of the judicial system as it applies to their individual cases.
'The forensics compound within the state hospital is a highly secure area with guard gates on all sides and a high fence topped with razor wire around the perimeter. There also are mounted video cams on all sides. Actually, with all the hospital police surveillance and the sophisticated alarm system within the compound, it's a much safer place to work-which allows me time to concentrate on helping the forensic patients, rather than worrying so much about my own safety.
"Forensics is interesting because inside the compound the prisoners and 'dangerous' criminals become just as normal and human as you and I. They need someone to help them bridge the gap between institutionalization and the outside world. Sometimes they committed their crimes when they were young, or when they were under the influence of drugs. Sometimes they were in the throes of full-blown schizophrenia, and simply needed to be put on medication. It's amazing how normal these people are when they are not committing crimes. They are someone's father, brother, sister, son, daughter, or friend.
"My job is like being a mother to forty-eight men, most of whom are in their mid-thirties and early forties, with a range of from eighteen years of age to the early seventies. Actually, the job feels like being at home with my 'second' family, only I have forty-eight kids, some of whom are older than I. But all of them treat me respectfully and as someone they know and trust.
'The job is definitely interesting. I work the 3:00 to 11:00 shift. The pace is quite busy up until about 8:00 P.M., and then it slows down for an hour of charting.
"When I first arrive, I get my assignment from the shift lead. Jobs are rotated so I usually have a job assignment different from what I did the day before. Typically, I spend the first hour making sure the guys shower and handing out clean clothing to them. Their clothing consists of old and new army issue khaki shirts and pants. The army is no longer wearing khakis; they wear all camouflage these days. So our fellas are uniformed. There is a reason for this. Since most of them are neither schizophrenic nor retarded, they look just like the staff. Often the only distinction is that they wear uniforms-and have committed a crime.
"After that it's patio break so they can get some fresh air. Then it's time for dinner and day hall leisure skills, such as keeping abreast of the evening news.
"What follows next is medication. If I am assigned to meds, I will do that job and that job only for a period of two weeks, then the assignment is rotated to someone else who will be med nurse for a two-week rotation.
"After meds, we hand out 'specials' or food items the patients have bought with their own money, which is handled through their trust office account. Each patient receives $12.50 per month, plus whatever their families have sent them to put on their books.
'The tragic thing about these patients is by the time they come to us, many of their family members have given up on them, and $12.50 is all the money they get. If they smoke, that money won't last long, and by the end of the month they are all trying to borrow from the patients more fortunate than they are.
"After specials and evening snacks, usually milk and some kind of goody provided by the state, the patients settle down to watch movies rented through a contract with a local video store. The state gives some money on an account, and the staff goes to the video store and selects a current movie. We do that until the money runs out. When that happens, staff will usually bring in movies from home for the patients to watch.
"I work forty hours per week. Having been there fifteen years, I have been able to get Fridays and Saturdays off. These patients are prisoners and we never close, so someone has to be there for each of the three shifts, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
'The patients go to bed at ten on weekdays. Then it's time to do rounds and wrap up any loose ends I didn't get finished during the shift."
THE UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES
"What I like most about my work is that I know I have worked hard to qualify for this position as guardian, mentor, sometimes hard-nosed director, and friend to people in trouble who seriously need someone to listen to them and offer educated help. Not everyone can do my job. It is specialized and professional. It pays far above normal salary, offers great benefits and vacation packages, and I take pride in being part of the state system as a licensed psychiatric technician.
"The swing shift gives me something to do in the evening when I would just be sitting at home bored anyway. And I have every day off until around 2:00 in the afternoon, when I must get ready for work. I can shop, clean, garden, jog, whatever, and then go into work just when the day begins to drag.
"What I like least about my job is that sometimes it can be very dangerous. Patients can become volatile and 'go off,' which they do from time to time.
'The state provides mandatory annual Management of Assaultive Behavior (MAB) classes to train the staff how to work together to control assaultive patients through parry and evade tactics, rather than relying on strength alone.
"These guys are all potential con artists, and we also take mandatory classes each year that warn us of the possible cons they may attempt.
"We all work together as a team. From time to time a staff member gets seriously hurt and we all think, 'it could have been me.' The plus side is I have been doing this for fifteen years and have never been hurt."
"Salaries are above normal and average out around $30,000 a year, and that's take home pay. There is always opportunity for overtime, and we get eleven paid holidays per year and compensatory time off over and above our vacation time. Vacation time varies but ends up being thirteen hours per month at the top of the scale.
"Usually a person who has been there as long as I have will have accumulated one month of paid vacation per year. Overtime can be taken in time or cash, your choice. We have a great retirement system, and health benefits including medical, dental, and vision. We also have a strong union that acts as an advocate when we need it."
Advice from Jan Bailey
"If there is no psych tech program in your local college or institution, I suggest you go through the R.N. program. They do the same things as psych techs except they do more paperwork. I personally would rather be a psych tech because we do more work involving the psychiatric end of nursing, and that's what interests me more than the medical aspect of my job.
"You can work as a certified nurse's aide while going through the program to familiarize yourself with the medical/psych field and hospital settings. That way it won't seem so overwhelming to you when you set foot in the forensics department of nursing.
"If you enjoy helping people, are flexible in your thinking, work well under pressure and as a team member, this is the career for you."