Forensic counselors work at the intersection of psychology and the legal system. Asked by authorities to examine, assess, and treat those involved in court and other proceedings, forensic counselors work frequently with criminal defendants, divorcing parents and their children, and those accused of malfeasance stemming from addiction. Because of their unique perspective, forensic counselors can be asked to provide an expert opinion on behalf of one party, or to help a court determine the outcome of the case. This grave responsibility is not to be taken lightly, so the practice of forensic counseling is closely regulated by the profession.
Why a Master's Degree?
As with other counseling specialties, a master’s degree is generally required by most states prior to certification as a forensic counselor. Like other master’s programs, students seeking forensic counseling degrees take several courses in counseling and psychotherapy; unique to most forensic counseling programs, however, is the strong focus on psychological assessment and evaluation. Most programs also have a significant practice component, and so frequently require an internship and as well as a practicum.
Inside a Forensic Counseling Master's Degree Program
Students seeking forensic counseling master’s degrees should expect the program to take two years to complete. Because of the field’s strong emphasis on assessment and evaluation, students spend more time in practical fieldwork when compared with other counseling degrees; in fact, many programs require lengthy practicums to be completed in the first year, followed by equally long internships in the second year. Students in this sub-discipline will also take courses on psychology, the law, and criminology.
Like other counseling disciplines, forensic counselors study psychotherapy and counseling theory. Developmental psychology, as well as different techniques for individual and group therapy are also covered. Due to increasing awareness, most forensic counseling programs also require courses in psychopathology, including sex offender evaluation and treatment. As with other master’s and doctoral programs, research methods and statistics will also be covered. Those unfamiliar with this level of research may wish to preview it on this free knowledge base.
What’s Next for Forensic Counseling Master's Degree Holders?
Professionals who graduate with a forensic counseling master’s degree are qualified to work in correctional facilities, clinics, assessment, and treatment facilities; they are also qualified to testify in courtrooms. Those who pursue state licensure can practice independently. These graduates frequently choose to take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) and receive certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Although data specific to the profession is difficult to find, the BLS notes that counselors in social work, generally, earn an average annual salary of over$49,000; furthermore, jobs in this field are expected grow over the next ten years.
Since doctorates typically earn $1,000,000 more than those with a master’s degree over the course of their lifetime careers, many choose to continue their education. Those who go on to a doctoral program can expect to spend at least another three years in study. However, forensic counselors with a master’s degree can choose to practice independently, take a supervisory role, or even teach at a college or university.