Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Forensic Mental Health Evaluation
NBFE trains and certifies clinicians from all of the licensed mental health professions (i.e., clinical mental health counseling, clinical social work, marriage and family therapy, clinical and/or counseling psychology, psychiatry, psychiatric nursing). Generally speaking, individuals who are independently licensed to diagnose and treat mental disorders and who have been adequately trained to conduct forensic mental health evaluations may do so throughout the United States, and it is very rare for us to find any type of exception. In most states, licensed counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists can independently diagnose and treat mental disorders. We at NBFE have never been notified of any jurisdiction in the United States that prohibits licensed counselors, social workers, nor marriage and family therapists from performing all types of forensic evaluations.
However, some states and jurisdictions restrict counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapist from conducting certain types of forensic mental health evaluations in certain contexts. Laws, rules, and codes vary not only state-to-state but also in various regional jurisdictions in the same state. For example, in the 6th Judicial Circuit of Florida (Pinellas and Pasco Counties), only psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians are permitted to be listed in the court’s directory of evaluators who can be appointed by the court for competency evaluations. However, that same circuit allows counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists to conduct other types of court-appointed evaluations, such as child custody, substance abuse, and downward departure evaluations. Additionally, the circuit does not prevent attorneys and clients from hiring counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists for any type of forensic mental health evaluation. Meanwhile, three other Florida circuits nearby the 6th Circuit allow counselors, social works, and marriage and family therapists to be on the court-appointed list for any type of forensic mental health evaluation. This case illustrates the complexity of the question.
As a national board, it would not be possible for NBFE’s personnel to be fully aware of all laws and rules in every jurisdiction throughout the country, which are numerous and changing. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each practitioner to become knowledgeable of their scope of practice as it related to forensic mental health evaluation in their respective jurisdictions.
Here are a few resources that a licensed professional can use to try and verify the qualifications in his or her jurisdiction for various types of forensic evaluations:
NBFE is a national board, and our CFMHE credential is a national credential. Our certification workshops are designed to benefit mental health professionals interested in forensic evaluation regardless of what states they practice in.
We are not aware of any state or jurisdiction in the United States that requires forensic evaluators to possess the CFMHE credential or any other specific certification. However, under the two most common standards in the United States, the Frye and Daubert standards, an expert witness must be able to convince attorneys, legal stakeholders, and, most importantly, judges that he or she is a qualified professional.
How does a professional accomplish this? In addition to one's education and license as a mental health professional, the CFMHE credential is an excellent means to demonstrate expert status. NBFE is a reputable national board officially recognized and endorsed by the American Mental Health Counselors Association and several other state and regional associations and is an Approved Continuing Education Provider (ACEP) by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). NBFE's certification process includes verification of a professional’s license to diagnose and treat mental disorders, moral/ethical character, and clinical skills. CFMHEs have submitted verification of at least 40 hours of forensic mental health experience and/or training, have passed a written examination on forensic mental health evaluation, have demonstrated the ability to write a quality forensic evaluation report using a standardized process, and have successfully defended an evaluation/forensic report before a panel of peers who are experienced forensic evaluators. Such a vetting process makes it much more challenging for attorneys to allege that an individual is not qualified and/or competent to conduct forensic mental health evaluations.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each individual mental health professional to determine whether they meet requirements established by various government authorities (e.g., federal and state laws, local ordinances, procedural codes, board rules, etc.) to conduct forensic evaluations in their respective jurisdictions. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact their state licensure boards or association chapters for additional guidance on laws and rules applicable to forensic evaluations. They may also wish to contact their judicial circuit for information on qualifications required to be appointed by the court as an evaluator in a specific jurisdiction. If a forensic evaluator is affiliated with NBFE, then the evaluator can also use the member forum to post a question about qualifications in a specific state.
NBFE’s position is that al mental health professionals, whether counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists, who are licensed in their states to independently diagnose and treat mental disorders and who have appropriate training and competence to administer and interpret psychological tests should be able to do so. This is a common position in the mental health field.
For example, the American Counseling Association, American Mental Health Counselors Association, National Board for Certified Counselors, and Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs have offered similar positions on the questions of whether administering and interpreting psychological tests is within the scope of practice of clinical mental health counselors. Counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists typically meet the requirements of psychological test distributors, and most state licensure boards do not place restrictions on their ability to administer and interpret psychological tests so long as the individual professional is appropriately trained (visit https://nbfe.net/Fair-Access-to-Tests for supporting documentation).
However, a small number of states do restrict certain types of testing privileges from certain types of mental health professionals. As a national certification board that is a not a state government regulatory agency, NBFE cannot attest to the current scope of practice, which often changes, for every profession in every state. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each licensed professional to be knowledgeable of his or her scope of practice in his or her respective state.
If I have a criminal charge in my background or a history of disciplinary action from a licensure board in a mental health profession, am I eligible for the Certified Forensic Mental Health Evaluator (CFMHE) credential?
NBFE does not have a blanket policy that prohibits applicants from eligibility for the CFMHE credential based solely on whether the applicant has a history of disciplinary action on file. Instead, NBFE makes determinations about eligibility on a case-by-case basis after considering the facts available regarding the disciplinary action. Per NBFE Policy No. 001(2)(c), NBFE reserves the right to determine an applicant ineligible for the CFMHE credential if "the background information and/or professional references reveal potential breeches of law, duty, ethics, and best practices in the field."
In addition to providing verification of an active/current license to practice and submitting three reference letters from colleagues attesting to their moral/ethical character, applicants are required to answer the following questions when completing their application for certification:
Depending on the applicant's responses to the above questions and other information obtained during the application process, the NBFE administrative team may ask the applicant to provide additional information and/or may obtain public records (e.g., public record of disciplinary action on file from a licensure board) related to disclosed incidents. After the applicant's application has been finalized and submitted, the administrative team will review the information and provide a report to the NBFE Board of Directors (BOD), which will consider factors including (but not limited to) the nature and number of the disclosed incident(s), the findings and conclusions of any regulatory bodies involved in the incident(s), the time that has lapsed since the incident(s), whether any current restrictions are in place concerning the applicant's license to practice, what has changed with the applicant since the date(s) of the incident(s), etc. The BOD will then render a decision as to whether the applicant is eligible for certification. Application/certification fees are not refundable for applicants who are determined ineligible for the CFMHE credential.