New Credential to Open (Courtroom) Doors for Counselors
BY LAURIE L. HAYES
FOR COUNSELING TODAY
ACA, NBFE partnership creates opportunities for counselors to provide forensic evaluation, testimony
Psychological forensic evaluations have long fallen under the domain of psychiatrists and psychologists, and credentialing bodies have catered to these professionals in providing the necessary training and certification. As a result, more than 200,000 licensed mental health professionals (excluding psychiatrists/psychologists) in the United States have been virtually shut out of this interesting and potentially quite profitable niche of the mental health field.
Recognizing this, the American Counseling Association and the National Board of Forensic Evaluators have formed a partnership to provide a credible and professionally recognized forensic training/certification process for licensed counselors and other mental health professionals.
"NBFE was officially established in 2003 and originated from a specialty certification training program developed by licensed mental health professionals, physicians and practicing family attorneys," said Norman Hoffman, a licensed marriage and family therapist, mental health counselor, certified assessor for the Florida State Department of Children and Families, and president of NBFE's advisory board.
Other board members include licensed marriage and family therapists, attorneys, licensed mental health counselors, licensed social workers, licensed psychologists, certified assessors by the Department of Children and Families, clergy, physicians and certified hypnotherapists.
NBFE purpose, Hoffman said, is to enhance skills of licensed mental health professionals who, traditionally, have not been recognized in the forensic arena by the public or private sector.
"This really is going to be a growing field for counselors," he said. "Especially because, more and more, the mental health field is diminishing as HMOs require more work for less money by practitioners."
Mental health professionals in the forensic arena don't deal with insurance companies, Hoffman said, noting that the field can be "quite lucrative." What's more, since he entered the forensic arena, he has seen the scope of his practice expand exponentially and finds his work more fulfilling - so much so that he now devotes 90 percent of his time to forensic work.
"The legal community will also be delighted by the addition of counselors to the pool of potential forensic evaluators," Hoffman said. "Lawyers are looking desperately for people who can offer expert psychological testimony."
Until now, that pool has been relatively limited. Hoffman noted that the American Board of Forensic Psychology, established in 1978, restricts its membership candidates to those with doctoral degrees in
psychology accredited by the American Psychological Association, Canadian Psychological Association or other programs meeting designated criteria specific to psychologists.
Similarly, he said, in order to become a forensic psychiatrist, one must first become a board certified psychiatrist, graduate from medical school, perform a year-long internship and meet other closely related regulations that are governed by criteria specific to psychiatry.
Before the establishment of NBFE, according to Hoffman, the only way for counseling professionals to obtain forensic credentials was through suspect organizations "that basically would credential anybody."
As a testament to the rigors of NBFE's credentialing process, ACA recently went public with its endorsement of the program and has formed a partnership with the group. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that ACA members will receive a reduced rate on the cost of the training/certification process.
ACA members are eligible for a 40 percent discount when applying for NBFE credentials as a Forensic Psychological Evaluator. This represents a savings of $320 off the cost of the application and written and oral exams. In addition, for those members who become NBFE credentialed as a Forensic Psychological Evaluator, ACA will grant 15 CEUs (15 contact hours) toward license and/or certification renewal.
"We are really excited about this partnership," said David Kaplan, associate executive director for professional affairs at ACA. "It opens up a whole new niche for professional counselors."
"Testifying in court as an expert witness has, until now, been the realm of the psychologist and psychiatrist," Kaplan continued. "But with the excellent training opportunities and credentialing process offered by NBFE, counselors will also be able to provide this service."
"We view this as one more valuable service we can offer our membership," Kaplan added "ACA members can become certified to offer this new type of service while saving nearly three times the cost of their annual membership."
"The partnership with NBFE gives ACA members one more opportunity to specialize and pursue an alternative interest," said Samuel Gladding, ACA president. "And in this current climate of legal proceedings many of which surround issues related to counseling, "this specialized' training will enhance both the skills and reputation of counseling professionals."
According to Hoffman, in order to attain NBFE board certification as a Forensic Psychological Evaluator, ACA members and other applicants must meet the following eligibility requirements: a completed application and processing fee; a minimum of a state license/certification to practice mental health counseling, marriage and family counseling, social work, or a related license or certificate approved by the state's licensing board to practice psychotherapy; and a minimum of three years of post-licensed/certified experience.
Applicants must also have completed a minimum of 40 hours of substantiated documentation in classes, workshops, seminars, supervision, published professional works, etc., focusing on forensic psychological assessment, sexual offenders, domestic violence, expert witness, ethical issues, fan1ily law, introduction to essentials of forensic assessment, child custody evaluations, assessment in personal injury, malingering, competency to stand trial, civil comn1itment, juvenile justice and substance abuse.
Hoffman noted that experience in providing expert testimony, depositions, divorce and fan1ily mediation, competency evaluations will be considered, if there is a verifiable case number and court reference accompanying the application.
In addition, those seeking certification must have three professional references who can validate the their ethical and moral standards as well as pertinent clinical skills and abilities.
Upon meeting these qualifications, a written examination will be required to assess the depth and breadth of the candidate's forensic knowledge.
Upon candidacy eligibility and payment of examination fees, a comprehensive study guide will be provided by NBFE. A practice sample review and oral examination will complete the certification process.
In addition to establishing the partnership with NBFE that qualifies ACA members for the discount, Hoffman noted that ACA has recognized and approved NBFE's workshops and home studies for its members.
NBFE is part of the Counseling and Psychotherapy Center (CPC), which is approved by the Board of Clinical Social Work Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling as a provider of continuing education. As such, Hoffman said, "We maintain the highest level of expertise and professionalism."
The senior clinicians at CPC researched and developed all program materials, according to Hoffman. He noted that CPC ensures the integrity of the programs and considered the level of the needs of the target audience in developing appropriate educational goals and learning objectives. The courses of study meet the high-quality standards required for continuing education for clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists and professional counselors.
CPC clinicians have provided face-to-face seminars and workshops for years, Hoffman said, but they are now focused on bringing the training to the practitioners. "While CPC will maintain the faculty and resources necessary to assist its students in developing and enhancing their capabilities, skills and effectiveness in their chosen professions, we have also made it possible, through homestudy, to serve the continuing educational needs of the licensed working professionals," he said. In addition, Kaplan noted that arrangements are underway for NBFE to offer a two-day workshop prior to the ACA convention in Atlanta this coming April. ACA members who participate will be awarded 15 contact hours. A written exam will be offered on the second day.
Hoffman admits that the field of forensics is not for everyone. He anticipates that between 5 and 10 percent of counseling professionals might have an interest in going to court. "It takes a real 'Type A; personality," he said. "You've got to have an interest in how the legal system meshes with the mental health profession and enough control of your ego that you are not so tied to one way of looking at things."
"Good verbal skills are also essential," Hoffman added. "You're performing (for) a whole new audience, and you must be able to articulate clear thoughts without resorting to a lot of psychobabble."
Another big difference between forensic and more traditional mental health practice is the limited scope of the evaluations. "There is a limit on the involvement with the individual," Hoffman said.
"For the purposes of the court, you are there to extract as much psychological information as possible. So while you use the same counseling skills (that you have always used) to make that connection, once you have gathered enough information to make an evaluation, your involvement is over."
Because of this, Hoffman said, it's much less draining on the counselor particularly those who have been prone to what he terms "compassion fatigue."
"Counselors, especially those in private practice, are always looking for new ways to market their services as well as to round out their practices," Kaplan said. For those who meet the criteria, he said, forensic work could be just the ticket for achieving this.
"Forensics is still very new to most. ACA members," noted Gladding. "But this partnership may create an interest. It really opens up a door for the counseling profession."
Counselors who are interested in learning more about becoming a forensic evaluator can go the NBFE website at www.nbfe.net or contact Hoffman via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.