Forensic Therapy

What Is Forensic Therapy?

Forensic therapy encompasses the psychological assessment, evaluation, intervention, and treatment of individuals who have committed violent crimes or are otherwise in the legal system. Victims and families may also be involved in forensic therapy. A forensic therapist may work in a therapeutic, supervisory, or consulting capacity, depending on the client’s situation and the requirements of the legal system.

When It's Used

Forensic therapists work with both juvenile and adult offenders, both individually and in groups. The work takes place in prisons, hospitals, schools, specialized mental health centers and therapeutic communities, legal environments, such as probation services, and government forensic assessment units, where clients are evaluated for criminal responsibility, competency to stand trial, or risk for violence. Forensic therapists also testify as expert witnesses in courtrooms. Cases and specializations may include child abuse and neglect, child custody and parental fitness, sex offender risk assessment, violence risk assessment, juvenile evaluations, and sentencing and mitigation.

What to Expect

An assessment may be conducted for the purpose of determining a course of therapeutic treatment or simply to establish facts, such as mental competency, for use in the legal system. If a forensic therapist is asked by an attorney or court to evaluate an individual, the therapist may evaluate the person's mental competence to help determine facts in a legal case, but therapeutic treatment is not indicated. When a forensic therapist is assessing an individual for treatment, the emphasis is less on determining the facts of a case and more on identifying the person's problems and deciding on an appropriate treatment plan. A forensic therapist often works as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

How It Works

The treatment goal of forensic therapy is to understand what triggers a person to commit a crime and help that person understand their own motivations and take responsibility for their actions. By building this self-awareness, as well as an understanding of the nature and impact of their crime, it may be possible for offenders to change their thinking and behavior patterns so they are less likely to act out or commit crimes in the future.

What to Look for in a Forensic Therapist

A forensic therapist may have a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, social work, counseling, or a related field and, in some cases, postgraduate academic work in a forensic psychology program. Educational and licensing requirements may vary from state to state. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) also provides board certification in forensic psychology for forensic psychologists with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. who meet their professional standards and pass an oral examination. In addition to the appropriate education and training, a forensic therapist must have excellent communication skills and strong knowledge of the profession to clearly express the theoretical, ethical, and legal basis of their findings.

Sources

National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. “Forensic Mental Health Services in the United States": 2014

McGauley G, Humphrey M. Contribution of forensic psychotherapy to the care of forensic patients. Advances In Psychiatric Treatment. Mar 2003;9(2): 117-124.

American Board of Forensic Psychology.