What is the Clinical Component Like in a Forensic Psychology Master’s Program?

Clinical forensic psychologists explore the mind of people who encounter the legal system. With a masters degree, your clinic becomes the courthouses, correction facilities, and treatments centers populated by participants in the judicial system. You become equipped to you build the foundations for and render opinions and assessments used by lawyers, judges, corrections officials and other players in the legal system.

Crime and Rehabilitation

Criminal cases pose a number of questions that require a clinical forensic psychologist to render an opinion. For example, courts confront a defendant’s competency, or mental capacity, to stand trial or waive Miranda such as the right to remain silent. Defense lawyers plead their clients’ insanity, meaning that the defendant did not understand his actions were wrong at the time of a crime, and rely on an expert to establish the defense. Prosecutors may want you to opine that the defendant was legally sane.

Even jurors might be the subject of clinical forensic psychology. In the role as a jury consultant, you may consider the background of jurors and cultural and social issues that might sway their verdicts.

In a masters program for clinical forensic psychology, you also learn to operate outside the courtroom. For example, courts order offenders to drug and alcohol treatment, anger management and other forms of therapy. As a clinical forensic psychologist, you evaluate the participants and develop and implement treatment plans for them. Victims may need you to help them handle and overcome post-traumatic stress, especially from violent crimes against them or the death of their loved ones.

The Civil Arena

Mental issues also play a role in civil cases. Forensic psychologists evaluate the impact of custody arrangements on children. An assessment of a person’s risk for self-harm may lead to his or her involuntary commitment. Competency is also an issue determining whether a court will appoint a guardian for a person or invalidate a will or other legal document.

The Skills

As a student, you hone your skills in investigation and communication. To build the grounds for your opinion, you must effectively question the parties and subjects, gather records and other information about their histories, and review evidence or facts provided by the parties or law enforcement. You’ll need to grasp the social and cultural issues as they might impact the subject’s state of mind. Strong writing skills are cultivated so readers can understand and apply your findings. To be an effective expert witness, you’ll enhance your oral communication talents and learn rules of evidence and court procedure so your opinions are admissible in court and persuasive to judges and juries.

The typical masters program requires you earn credit hours in “practica,” or work outside the classroom. Depending on the school, you can choose or you’ll be assigned to a hospital or mental health center (especially where involuntary commitments take place), prisons, jails, parole or probation offices, or jury consulting firms. Under the supervision of a licensed psychologist, you’ll interview defendants, inmates, respondents in guardianship, incompetency or involuntary commitment proceedings, among others; review records and files on subjects or cases; and sit-in on or help conduct therapy sessions, among other hands-on learning opportunities.

The legal system’s tentacles reach many places in and out of the courtroom. The clinical component of a master’s degree in forensic allows you to serve the employees, officials and citizens who populate it.

Related resource:

Top 20 Graduate Programs in Forensic Psychology