How to Become a Forensic Counselor – Schooling and Career Guide

Forensic counseling career combines elements of criminal justice and counseling in a unique way. Individuals like you who may pursue this career path will be dealing with counseling criminal offenders in the criminal justice system.

Though this is not a job for everyone, there are many great benefits in this career that may lead you to both a financially and emotionally rewarding future. The following explains more about what becoming a forensic counselor entails and what you can expect to find in a career of this nature.

What is a Forensic Counselor?

A forensic counselor is an individual trained to work with offenders within the criminal justice system to help them with mental health issues.

People within the criminal justice system are more likely to have mental health issues than people within the wider population. Their mental health issues may be the cause of their involvement in the criminal justice system or it could be as a result of it, but a forensic counselor provides assistance either way. Provision of this service can also be given to individuals seen to be at a high risk of offending due to mental health issues.

The provision of forensic counselors allows for assessment of individuals, provision of intervention and planning to adapt both the thoughts and the behaviors occurring as a result of the offender’s mental health issues. The service may also be called upon to assess an offender’s ability to plea or stand trial.

An offender can be referred into forensic counseling at any stage of the criminal justice system and, as a result, counselors in this field can work in prisons, hospitals or within the community. The ultimate aim of forensic counseling is to avoid further problems occurring as a result of mental health issues. Early intervention and coping strategies are effective ways of doing this.

What are the Education Requirements to Become a Forensic Counselor?

According to the National Association of Forensic Counselors (NAFC), there is a serious education needed in order to take this career path.

First, and foremost, an undergraduate degree is essential. These degrees should be focused in counseling of some sort or in criminal justice.

Undergraduate degree ideals should involve a high level of classes in the criminal justice field and a course in dealing with offenders or the common mental health disorders that afflict them is also important to take. For this reason, an undergraduate degree is a must in order to pursue this career path.

A Master’s degree in forensic counseling is also an almost universal requirement for employment in dealing with criminal offenders, according to the aforementioned NAFC. This is because simply knowing counseling techniques or criminal justice may not prepare an individual for work in this highly intensive and often impactful field of work.

It is recommended that an institution of higher learning which focuses on preparing you to deal with criminal offenders is sought out for a proper education in the field. This helps you to know what to do when problems arise and prepares you for work in a criminal justice setting.

Licensure requirements vary significantly by state and counseling specialty. Some states have opted for one examination system for all types of mental health counselors, whereas other states have specific examinations for each counseling specialty (1). American Counseling Association provides information related to state professional counselor licensing boards.

What are the Requirements to Become a Certified Forensic Counselor?

If you wish to become a certified forensic counselor, you will also have to get the proper certifications and schooling in your state. This will require testing and, according to the NAFC, will also require some fieldwork under a trained professional. This is because of the potentially dangerous, but highly beneficial, setting in which you will work.

You will also be required to continue your education throughout your work and employment. This is necessary to ensure that you get the most from your lessons and that you are prepared for any changes in regulations and laws, as well as theories in the field.

New advancements and research in psychology and counseling are always occurring. It is important that you are prepared and knowledgeable of these areas in order to complete your job to its fullest potential.

Where Does a Forensic Counselor Work?

There are several locations that an individual with a forensic counseling background can find employment. Among the most popular are those in a correctional facility or institution in which criminals are housed. These can include penitentiaries and jails. They may also include other options as well.

An individual can choose to work in a facility for young criminal offenders or may find employment in a halfway house or other location where the need for mental health for those who may have broken the law or are at a high risk of breaking the law are located.

Lawyers and judges may also ask individuals to testify in court with an expert opinion, meaning that you would assess an individual or an accused person in order to provide an opinion in court. There is a high level of confidentiality in the field but that does not mean that you will not be confronted with times when your opinion is legally required and sought after in order to help clarify a situation.

As a forensic counselor, you may also work doing contract work for government agencies as well. These setting do, as aforementioned, have the potential to be highly intense and often can be intimidating to those who are not prepared. This is another reason that training and skill assessment are so vital to the process.

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