A mental health and forensic services program director’s job combines psychology and clinical processes with management principles. They develop, plan and coordinate mental health service programs in collaboration with criminal justice agencies. This career may require a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the field of psychology will grow steadily in coming years. Increased demand for substance abuse and mental health treatment will drive growth. Mental health and forensic services program directors with advanced education and certifications should enjoy the best career opportunities.

Job Duties

Employed by residential facilities, hospitals, state and local governments or private organizations, mental health and forensic services program directors’ job duties include screening, clinical evaluation and case management of clients in the criminal justice system.

Often, their clients are enrolled in treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration. Therefore, directors work closely with the criminal justice system, government offices and substance abuse treatment centers. Other clients may be individuals with mental disorders whose behavior can pose disruption or danger to the public. Providing the proper treatment to keep these clients – and the public – safe is a key goal for mental health and forensic services program directors.

Their efforts are intended to promote recovery, prevent or limit client exposure to the criminal justice system and facilitate the client’s return to the community. To accomplish this, a mental health and forensic services program director will typically provide:

  • Clinical programming
  • Specialized consultation and evaluation
  • Intervention programs to divert people into treatment when possible
  • Programs to help people successfully return to their communities

Directors may collaborate with court liaisons, drug intervention services, psychiatric hospitals, social service agencies and nonprofit groups. These professionals typically work a 40-hour week, but may respond to emergencies any time.

Potential Salary

National salary data on Salary.com indicated that behavioral health directors, including mental health and forensic services program directors, typically earned between $91,622 and $112,962, with the median annual wage of $102,051 as of November 2009. Recent bachelor’s graduates will generally start out in entry-level positions toward the lower end of the salary range. The top salaries generally go to individuals with advanced education, certification and extensive experience.

Mental Health and Forensic Services Program Director Education and Training

Education and training for this occupation can vary according to the employer. Some jobs mandate a master’s or doctorate degree; most entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree. Many employers prefer previous experience, which can be obtained through summer jobs or internships while pursuing a degree.

Becoming a mental health and forensic services program director can begin with a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology with a concentration in forensic psychology. Coursework typically includes social psychology, scientific and technical communication, lifespan development and psychology, and law and psychology.

Employers can be confident that graduates of an applied psychology program are able to:

  • Recognize applied psychology concepts including theory, trends and empirical findings.
  • Analyze human behavior from psychological, criminological and sociological perspectives.
  • Understand the decision processes of police, prosecutors, lawyers, judges and juries.
  • Comprehend the value of sociocultural diversity, including key concepts and complexity.
  • Leverage advanced skills and knowledge to succeed in a mental health and forensic services program director role.

Many employers offer opportunities for continuing education. It’s possible to gain an entry-level position with a bachelor’s degree and use tuition assistance to pay for a master’s degree.

Essential Skills for Mental Health and Forensic Services Program Directors

A successful career as a mental health and forensic services program director requires strong leadership and consensus-building skills, as well as the ability to write well, plan strategically, communicate clearly and think creatively. Sensitivity to racial, cultural, economic and gender-specific issues and attention to detail are also important. This career can be a great fit if you meet these qualifications and have an interest in psychology and criminal justice.

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