RWU Grad Blog

You mean Forensic Psychology isn't my only option?

Forensic psychology is a hot academic discipline - and for good reason. Forensic psychologists are in high demand with job opportunities expected to outpace the overall job market the next 10 years. For those interested in providing clinical therapy with forensic populations, earning a PhD isn't the only pathway to get there.

Rachel Candelaria, M.A. Forensic Mental Health Counseling candidate '23
A therapist takes notes with a patient

As many of you can relate, I came from a research-heavy undergraduate program. I double-majored in psychology and criminology/criminal justice, and participated in various research opportunities. As such, my faculty stressed, highly, that my future track was research. They told me that my only option was to get a master’s degree in criminal psychology or forensic psychology. If I wanted to further my education even more, I would then pursue a PhD. So, what did I do, you ask? I applied to five forensic psychology degree programs and planned to get my PhD, just as those professors encouraged. It was not until I applied to the Forensic & Legal Psychology program at Roger Williams University (RWU) that I found I was on the completely wrong career path!

Planning my Future

Roger Williams was among my top three choices for graduate schools for their Forensic & Legal Psychology program. I worked extremely hard in writing my letter of intent, and I thoughtfully chose who would write my letters of recommendation. I did my internship at a county jail in Colorado when I was getting my bachelor’s degree. I worked with the counselors in the jail to provide short-term, crisis intervention for the inmates. I conducted suicide-risk assessments, shadowed therapy sessions, and conducted various assessments for inmates during their intake process. I had found my dream job! As such, one of my letters of recommendation was my supervisor from this jail. I spoke of this passion, as well as my interest in becoming a licensed counselor in my letter of intent to Roger Williams University. I then experienced something that I don’t think would happen at any other graduate program…

"I experienced something that I don't think would happen at any other graduate program."

A New Direction

When I received my decision letter from RWU, I was absolutely heartbroken; I got waitlisted. About 20 minutes later, I received a phone call from the Director of Graduate Admission, Marcus Hanscom. He introduced himself and told me that he doesn’t think I applied to the right program. Marcus expressed that he felt my interests were best suited for the Forensic Mental Health Counseling Program (FMHC) at RWU, which I responded with, “what is that?” Of course, coming from the undergraduate institution that I did, I was never taught about the clinical options for forensic or criminal psychology, nor was I adequately informed about PsyD programs. I was always told that PsyD programs were a joke and that the only legitimate doctoral degree in this field was a PhD. Marcus explained that this FMHC program would be a clinical program, in which I would receive 60 credits, including 200 hours of practicum and 600 hours of internship, that would set me up to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) upon completion of the program. As you could imagine, I felt many different emotions; I was excited that there was a program that fit my interests, but I also felt stressed and scared because if I chose this program, I would be changing my future educational plan I had envisioned.

Exploring clinical opportunities and licensure

When Marcus approached me with this offer, I did not know what to do. I loved doing research and I did not know if I was ready to give all of it up to purse a clinical track. However, I found a happy medium. Although Roger William’s FMHC program does not offer research, I was still able to do research with my undergraduate team. I have been able to find time to do both things that I love: research and clinical work in the field. If I would have chosen the forensic psychology path, I would have missed out on the opportunities of training to be a licensed mental health counselor with the forensic population, opportunity to practice therapy in a correctional facility, and opportunity to meet all the licensed requirements needed to take my licensing exam post-graduation. It was important in my decision to come to this program to educate myself on other, unbiased, opinions. Of course, my undergraduate professors pushed for research and a PhD, because that is the path they have chosen for themselves. But after speaking to professors/professionals in the clinical field, it became apparent that receiving a PsyD was not a joke. In fact, it is what I am eagerly awaiting to achieve because it is so clinical-based.

Learn about all of your options

If you take anything away from this, I want you to educate yourself on all of your options, not just the ones made apparent to you by your potentially biased professors, peers, etc. If I hadn't spoken to Marcus and fully educated myself on the different pathways to reach my career goal, I would have irrationally chosen a field that others chose for me. You are your best advocate, and only you know what you want and what is best for you. Follow your heart, follow your gut, and gather all the information you need to make your decisions for any future endeavors you choose to embark on.

Rachel Candelaria is a student in the M.A. Forensic Mental Health Counseling program at Roger Williams University. You can reach her at rcandelaria@rwu.edu

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