Forensic Counselor: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for forensic counselors. Get the facts about education requirements, job duties and potential salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Forensic Counselor?

Forensic counselors provide counseling services to incarcerated individuals and their families. They are trained mental health professionals with a master's degree and clinical experience in counseling. They work to provide those in the criminal justice system and their families with services such as substance abuse treatment, talk therapy, and diagnosis of mental health disorders. Forensic counselors might also have to perform tasks such as providing testimony in court or assisting parole officers with inmate evaluations. The following chart may answer questions you have about this career.

Degree Required Master's degree, along with clinical experience
Education Field of Study Psychology, forensic counseling, social work
Licensure/Certification Licensure as a mental health counselor is required by most states; certification is optional
Key Responsibilities Provide group and individual counseling, testify in court on behalf of patient, oversee patient progress, implement prevention strategies at various advocacy centers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 20% (for all mental health counselors)*
Average Salary (2015) $45,080 (for all mental health counselors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Forensic Counselor Do?

A forensic counselor works within the intersection between the legal and mental health systems to provide counseling treatment for criminal and civil offenders. As a forensic counselor, you will provide services such as substance abuse treatment and parole evaluation to individuals within the criminal justice system. You will often also work with the families of incarcerated individuals, along with various organizations with diverse cultural beliefs and practices.

In addition to working with the patients, you may also be asked to work directly with individuals or organizations on the other side of the criminal justice system. These tasks may include providing testimony in court, assisting parole officers with inmate evaluation or implementing prevention strategies at various advocacy centers.

What Education Do I Need to Become a Forensic Counselor?

You must be a licensed mental health professional in order to become a forensic counselor. Several colleges and universities offer master's programs in psychology with a concentration in forensic counseling. If you graduate from one of these programs, you have often already fulfilled the education requirements needed to apply for licensure, but you should always check with the school to be sure. Most licensing in the mental health field is done on a state-basis, so you then need to apply to the appropriate state department in order to sit for an exam or be reviewed for a license. Some states may have additional requirements other than the education component, so be sure to fulfill every requirement of the state in which you want to work.

After logging several years of experience as a forensic counselor, you may want to consider additional certification with one of the national associations in the field, such as the American Board of Forensic Counselors (www.abfc.us) or the National Association of Forensic Counselors (www.nationalafc.com). In order to be certified, many organizations require that you have a certain number of hours in the field. Consequently, as a certified forensic counselor, you could be responsible for training new counselors because of your experience level. A certification in forensic counseling means that you have met the requirements for the professional standards of the field and could result in increased job opportunities and a higher salary.

Where Does a Forensic Counselor Typically Work?

As a forensic counselor, you can work in a wide variety of settings, including correctional facilities, parole offices, behavioral health centers in hospitals or other medical locations, domestic violence shelters and child care centers. Because forensic counselors provide such a diverse range of services, you have the ability and the opportunity to work in many different settings throughout your career. Additionally, because you must also be a licensed mental health professional in order to become a forensic counselor, you also have all the opportunities available to mental health professionals available to you if you decide to leave the forensic field.

How Much Could I Earn as a Forensic Counselor?

Salary information for forensic counselors isn't available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the bureau reported that as of May 2015, the average salary for all mental health counselors (excluding social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists) was $45,080, with variance based on the location and industry. Mental health counselors who worked in local government positions earned a national average of $55,220.

A certification in forensic counseling means that you have met the requirements for the professional standards of the field and could result in increased job opportunities and a higher salary. As a certified forensic counselor, you could be responsible for training new counselors because of your experience level.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in forensic counseling might also want to research some related careers which require a similar level of education. For example, school counselors work in schools, from elementary to high school, to help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed. School counselors generally have a master's degree in a related field. Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities cope with challenges and setbacks and develop necessary skills. They usually also have a master's degree. Social and community service managers can get work with only a bachelor's degree. They coordinate the activities of social workers and supervise community services and programs.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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