A Psychology Major as Preparation for Becoming an Addiction Professional in the Criminal Justice System

From the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium come some sobering statistics: 80% of citizens behind bars have abused alcohol or drugs, and nearly half of them would qualify as clinically addicted (http://professionals.internationalcredentialing.org/CCJP).

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80% of citizens behind bars have abused alcohol or drugs. ~ICRC

So even when the crime doesn’t directly involve substances (possession, sales, or driving under the influence), it can be a big part of the problem. Addiction is an obstacle to reintegrating into society, holding a job, and staying out of the correction system. Substance use also contributes substantially to impulsive behavior, at least in some populations.

This translates into a need for professional with knowledge of 1) the criminal justice system 2) addiction treatment and 3) interactions between the two. Criminal justice additions is a recognized specialty. RC&IC boards in 27 U.S. states and territories award Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional credentialing. The credential has had the input of an impressive list of organizations, among them, the American Correctional Association (ACA) and the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA).

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers an online Bachelor’s in Psychology modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology and Performance and Sports Psychology. Several Master’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online Bachelor’s in Psychology with an emphasis in Addictions and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Using Your Bachelor’s

Is criminal justice addictions treatment something you can do with a bachelor’s in psychology? In many cases, yes. You will need some training in very specific concepts; if they aren’t included in your psychology program, you can often pursue them through approved continuing education. Recognize that before you can hold certification — and be recognized as being well qualified in this niche field — you will need work experience. Your psychology degree won’t give you everything you need, but it can get you started on the path.

Formal requirements for criminal justice addictions professionals vary by state: from requiring a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral health field to not requiring a degree at all. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, though, reports that professionals in case management roles within the justice system generally need education at at least the bachelor’s level. Some pursue graduate education in fields like psychology or social work in order to advance.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers several online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Capella University also offers three online CACREP-accredited programs: MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in School Counseling, and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a COAMFTE-accredited program, MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Choosing Your Psychology Curriculum and Experiences

Bachelor’s level psychology programs appeal to many: aspiring counselors and caseworkers, aspiring business professionals, and students with their hearts set on graduate school. They’re not all getting the same curriculum or capstone experiences! That’s why the American Psychological Association recommends early planning.

Even if your credentialing agency does not mandate that your program include clinical practice or direct service, it can be a good idea. Practicum and internship experiences can provide you with your initial experience within a corrections and/ or substance abuse setting. They can also help you make connections with potential employers. Psychology internships take place in a variety of settings. A general psychology student can be placed in a court, correction center, or juvenile detention setting. If you want to credit training or experience hours, your duties and supervision will need to meet a set of requirements that may be very different than your school’s. Credential-qualifying experience, though, is generally obtained over a period of a couple years in an employment context.

What will you eventually need to master? The IC&RC Criminal Justice Addictions Professional Examination covers the following domains:

  • Addiction and criminal behavior
  • Criminal justice system/ processes
  • Legal and ethical responsibility
  • Clinical evaluation
  • Treatment planning
  • Case management, monitoring and supervision
  • Counseling
  • Documentation

Evaluation and treatment planning are slightly different than in other contexts. In the context of criminal justice, treatment planning may include constructing an action plan with the court.

Additional Resources

You may want to familiarize yourself with the IC&RC (http://professionals.internationalcredentialing.org/CCJP) and the following psychology organizations:

Division 9: Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues http://www.apa.org/about/division/div18.aspx

Division 18: Psychologists in Public Service http://www.apa.org/about/division/div18.aspx

Division 50: Society of Addiction Psychology http://www.apa.org/about/division/div50.aspx

The American Psychological Association supports not only practicing psychologists, but psychology students.