Forensic mental health specialists are involved in many different facets of the criminal justice system, ranging from criminal profiling, providing treatment and acting as expert witnesses in criminal trials. According to the Sage College School of Health Sciences, forensic mental health is one of the fastest growing specialties in mental health and criminal justice. By becoming a forensic mental health specialist, you can make a meaningful difference to society by providing expertise and assessing and treating people involved in the criminal justice system.
Forensic psychiatry is a broad field that involves the evaluation and treatment of people involved in criminal and civil cases, as well as other legal areas, like family and domestic law, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Forensic psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who undergo additional training in psychiatry after medical school, then continue their education in forensics. Training to become a forensic psychiatrist usually involves around 12 or more years of formal education. Forensic psychiatrists might be involved in diagnosing and treating criminals -- or other people involved in the legal system -- with psychiatric disorders, providing expert testimony in court cases and assessing whether a patient requires involuntary hospitalization.
Unlike forensic psychiatrists, forensic psychologists are not medical doctors, nor are they licensed to prescribe medication in most states -- except in Louisiana and New Mexico, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But forensic psychologists also undergo extensive graduate training. In addition to completing a doctoral degree in psychology, many forensic psychologists participate in postdoctoral forensic psychology fellowships. Others may receive on-the-job training in forensics. Forensic psychologists are often involved in criminal profiling -- a method of creating a report based on a criminal's behavior, suspected motivations and patterns of pathology, says forensic psychology professor Katherine Ramsland in an article for Crime Library on truTV.com.
Forensic Social Workers
Forensic social workers are mental health and social services professionals who apply their specialized knowledge to any issue related to law and litigation, says the National Organization of Forensic Social Workers. Forensic social workers usually have a master's degree in social work -- some forensic social workers complete concentrations in forensic social work during their master's degree programs, while other forensic social workers receive on-the-job training. Forensic social workers act as expert witnesses, provide consultation to legal professionals, diagnose, assess and treat people in the criminal justice system and offer advocacy and mediation services.
Correctional counselors help rehabilitate offenders and prevent them from committing repeat crimes. They are involved in treating a variety of populations, such as sexual offenders, substance abusers and sociopaths. Correctional counselors usually need a bachelor's degree, but the exact educational requirements can vary, says the BLS. While correctional counselors are not directly involved in treating offenders, they do perform assessments to determine the appropriate type of treatment, refer offenders to treatment programs, write reports and monitor offenders' progress in treatment.