Didactic and Experiential Training

Forensic psychology education requires both didactic and experiential training components. Didactic courses are necessary because they provide the intensive opportunity to acquire the scientific and practice knowledge base underlying forensic psychology. Simply apprenticing under a practitioner might lead to a narrow perception of what forensics entails and a skill set that is limited to what that practitioner knows and does in practice. Experiential training through externships, internships, and other supervised practica can augment the learning that has occurred in the classroom and in directed readings courses.

The important point for prospective students is to evaluate how well the available courses and experiential learning opportunities match their training needs. This is not an easy task. Programs are unlikely to provide training in all areas of forensic psychology. Thus, all trainees by definition will be deficient in some areas of forensic psychological knowledge (e.g., learning about guardianship law and forensic practice). Although not being expert in all forensic areas is a foregone conclusion given the existing training programs, it is not necessarily a problem. Graduate training is the beginning, hopefully, of a lifetime of learning and not the end of one s learning about forensic psychological knowledge and skills. To the extent that trainees are taught how to identify specific legal issues, the scientific knowledge base available to address the legal question, and the forensic skills related to those issues, trainees can acquire the substantive knowledge after graduation.

Of particular concern in didactic and experiential training is the quality of that training. It is important for students to be educated regarding the current approaches to forensic psychological practice, but the hallmark of the scientist-practitioner model (i.e., the Boulder model) is that trainees learn how to think scientifically and ask whether what is, is what ought to be. The importance of this level of critical analysis in teaching in the classroom, in research settings, and in experiential settings cannot be overemphasized because it fosters critical questioning of forensic psychological skills and services. Externships and internships are particularly vulnerable to not allowing for this analytic process to be learned. Trainees often begin their practice experiences in work settings with professionals who are overworked and report having limited time to stay abreast of the current scholarly literature. What they share with trainees is what they do rather than presenting the full panoply of approaches that are available for use with different problems and clients. For example, a psychodynamically oriented practitioner may provide excellent training to externs concerning his or her approach to therapy with particular types of clients but provide no information about alternative approaches or how one chooses between them, given a particular problem, client, and setting. The result is that the trainees can confuse information acquired during apprenticeship with the best available scholarly information in the field or even the best current clinical practices.

Return to the overview of Forensic Psychology Education.