What is a Forensic Mental Health? Informative Guide

Forensic psychology is a very unique set of psychology. In a world that connects law and human behavior, forensic psychology is vital in supporting the mental health of those in a forensic setting.

Forensic mental health is composed of psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, and social workers. For those that work in forensic mental health settings, there are many challenges to overcome and problems to solve that do not arise in other sects of the psychology field.

Here’s just a glimpse at what a career in a forensic mental health setting looks like.

What is Forensic Mental Health?

The term “forensic” refers to anything about the legal system including prisons, special hospitals, or court proceedings. With this in mind, forensic mental health is the process of treating or assessing mental illness in those who are currently or were previously connected to the legal system.

Forensic mental health services are usually offered by referrals. These referrals may come from police, courts, mental health services, justice agencies, or prisons. Once referred, forensic psychologists work with the individual to assess their mental health and, if necessary, provide relevant treatment.

In many cases, forensic mental health involves inmates and detainees. These people must have access to quality mental health care as many may develop new mental illnesses or see their current mental illness worsen.

As a universal right, everyone should have equal access to mental health support which is where forensic mental health professionals come into play. Without placing focus on those in the justice system, it would be easy to overlook some of the most vulnerable people in society. Forensic psychology and mental health services look to avoid this.

Why are Forensic Mental Health Services Important?

While it’s important to assess mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety in inmates, forensic mental health may also be used in court cases. Evidence of mental illness may be used as evidence and kept in mind while an offender is on trial.

Forensic mental health assessments play a key role in determining whether someone has the right to a certain plea. If someone is pleading insanity, for example, a forensic mental health professional will be brought in to assess the likelihood of insanity. If an individual is not found to be insane, then the plea will be rejected. If an individual is insane, though, the plea may be used.

Forensic mental health can also help determine an individual’s state of mind at the time of the alleged crime. As expert witnesses, forensic mental health professionals add credibility to a claim or help the jury understand the terms being used and the consequences of certain mental disorders.

Where Does Forensic Mental Health Take Place?

As mentioned above, most forensic mental health services take place in prisons. Most professionals work with inmates even after a trial to ensure they are still mentally healthy or being properly treated for any mental illness or disorder they may exhibit.

How Do I Become a Forensic Mental Health Professional?

Depending on the exact career your want to pursue, there are different options for how to become a forensic mental health professional. In most cases, you’ll need to first earn a forensic psychology degree.

As forensic psychology is still a relatively new field of study, there are few bachelor’s degrees in this field. You’ll most likely have to wait until the master’s level before you find a forensic psychology degree, though more bachelor’s degrees are becoming available.

If you can’t find a forensic psychology bachelor’s degree, a general psychology degree will be fine to start with.

In most cases, you’ll need at least a master’s degree before you can start your practice. Earning your masters in forensic psychology is the best decision for future forensic mental health professionals as it will expose you to the world of forensic psychology. 

With a master’s degree, you may have the opportunity to work as a forensic counselor, correctional administrator, or victim advocate. You’ll need to double-check all licensing requirements for your state, though, as some states have more requirements for forensic mental health professionals than others.

If you want to become a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist, you’ll need to complete more schooling. To earn your license, you’ll likely need to get your doctorate in forensic psychology: either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.

From here, you’ll want to work on getting work experience. As most states have a minimum number of supervised hours before you can become a licensed professional, you’ll want to look into the specific requirements early on.

You may also decide to earn your certification from the National Board of Forensic Evaluation. While not required, certification can help improve your chances of landing a job and getting a higher salary. Depending on the certification you choose to pursue, eligibility requirements will vary as well. 

Why Work in Forensic Mental Health?

Although the education requirements to become a forensic mental health professional are extensive, it can be a very rewarding career path. You’ll certainly face difficult cases as you’ll be spending a lot of time working with convicted criminals, but you’ll be providing them with the mental health care they need and deserve.

Forensic mental health services are vital to those that suffer from mental illness or disorders in the justice system. By working closely with these people, you’ll make a large difference in their lives and the lives of their families. 

Final Word

Forensic mental health settings aren’t for everyone. As professionals work with charged and convicted criminals along with victims, they’re faced with many difficult situations every day. While their clients may have committed heinous crimes, they’re still expected to deliver professional and quality care. 

Just like every other branch of psychology, forensic psychology includes many sub-specialties. If you find yourself interested in one particular aspect of forensic psychology or you know you want to avoid a certain area, you can adjust your studies to focus on what interests you most.

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