If you have been following my blog postings for Time2Track, you’ve read about what kind of training programs are available to those of you interested in, using the term broadly, forensic mental health work. I’ve also discussed the complexities of instituting and maintaining boundaries with forensic clients.
Now, I’m going to break down the forensic practicum placement process in three parts.
Part 1 talked about how you choose and prepare for an interview at a forensic-oriented site. (I use the term “forensic-oriented” to be broadly inclusive of any mental health training site for masters or doctoral level trainees that will work in a place where psychology and the law intersect.)
Part 2 (below) will touch on what to do after you’ve accepted your forensic placement offer but before you actually begin your training.
Part 3 (soon to come) will then address what you might actually get to do as a trainee in a forensic-oriented site.
What Happens After Your Placement Offer?
If you’re following along in sequence with this three-part series, my hope is that you made it through the interview process and you finally got that first forensic-oriented practicum placement you’ve been eyeing. (Way to go!)
You obviously survived the interview and even took a few forensic courses at your academic institution to better prepare you for your work (smart move!). But since you’ve accepted the site’s offer, you suddenly realize you have so many more questions you never thought to ask.
Whether your placement is in a court clinic, correctional institution, forensic state hospital, private practice, outpatient sex offender treatment program or any other forensic-oriented placement, no one has really prepared you for what you’re about to see and do as a trainee in your first forensic-oriented placement.
On one hand, you’ll have other students farther along in your program raving about how awesome but intense their training was when they did it.
On the other hand, you’ll have your Criminal Minds-obsessed and overly concerned family members trying to convince you to switch to a career in anything else!
Despite the vastly different feedback you get from the people in your life about your upcoming training opportunity, you might still be feeling relatively confident that you will be successful at your new placement. You are not deterred from working with difficult populations and you’ve gotten strong generalist training at your previous sites. Those are definitely good things to carry with you.
But then you sit in your Ethics course and you listen to your professor talk about things like maintaining confidentiality or you hear your classmates talk about how they bring in treats and games for their clients during a particularly important session.
You start to think, “I am pretty sure my new site said in the interview that there was this thing called a ‘Lamb warning,’ where nothing is confidential. And why would my classmates bring in treats and games for their clients? Isn’t that what my soon-to-be supervisor called contraband when we talked about things we could not bring into the institution?”
Now, it is inevitable that your training/job description will vary from site to site, and sometimes even unit to unit within a site. However, there a number of things you should know that will help you through your first forensic-oriented training year no matter where you go.
Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology
Aside from reading the few pieces that were outlined in one of my previous posts, one of the most important documents will be the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology adopted by the American Psychological Association (the group of people who wrote our profession’s ethics code).
This particular document will not only orient you to the work that you are about to do but it will also help you to understand that even though you took a regular Ethics course, forensic populations are all that much the more complicated.
You will likely come across issues such as, “What do I do if my client discloses a previously undisclosed crime during a therapy session or forensic interview?” or “My client, who has sex offense charges, is making subtle remarks that lead me to believe that he has feelings for me. How do I handle that?”
While the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology will not necessarily answer those specific questions for you outright, it will help give you a sense of your responsibilities in your role, the competencies you should obtain when doing forensic work, and so forth. The Guidelines will also help you to see the differences between general and forensic populations.
In addition to the pieces you should read, supervision and consultation will be your best friends during your training year. Any time you have a question be sure to seek out time to discuss it with a supervisor immediately.
Stay tuned for more on this topic and Part 3 of this series, which will cover a more in-depth explanation of what you might expect to encounter at your forensic-oriented site in terms of therapy and forensic assessment work.
As always, comment below with any questions or feel free to reach out to me privately.
Best of luck! (And congratulations on snagging that coveted forensic-oriented practicum placement!)