This is the fourth article in a series on the various online masters degree programs that are available in forensic psychology. The earlier articles in this series examined the forensic psychology masters degree programs at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the University of North Dakota, and Argosy University.

If you’ve been reading this series, you will already know that I am interested in online education and believe that the pedagogy and style of online teaching can facilitate greater and more in-depth discussions than is typically experienced in more traditional teaching formats. It appears clear that the future of online education is growing and that more individuals than ever before have access to online education.  The various tools and available technologies make online learning the wave of the future, if not the present.

With the significant increase in the number of online programs of study available over the last few years, I decided to have an in-depth look at some of the more popular fully online masters programs in forensic psychology. This article takes a look at the program offered by Walden University.

Online Master’s Program in Forensic Psychology

The first thing I learned when researching Walden University’s programs is that they have numerous web pages and that if you end up on the wrong one, you will not find any useful information. I suppose my first mistake was clicking the sponsored link for Walden in my Google search, since this took me to a page that did not provide any real information but that only encouraged me to submit my contact details for more information. So, I submitted my contact information and 12 minutes later received a call from Walden (nice, quick response!). In the intervening 12 minutes, however, I had found another Walden website with more useful information.

The online masters degree in forensic psychology at Walden University consists of a core program of study and the choice of four different areas of specialization. Walden also offers a general program of study for those who do not wish to specialize. A total of 12 courses are required (regardless of whether you choose a specialization or the general program) and the program can be completed in approximately 6 quarters or 1.5 years.

Credit Hours

The online masters degree in forensic psychology at Walden consists of 56 total quarter credit hours [Note: This system of credit hours might be a bit confusing since most programs count each course as 3 credit hours; Walden counts each course as 5 credit hours (and one of the courses as 1 credit hour)]. Students can choose from 4 different concentrations— forensic psychology in the community, mental health applications, program planning and evaluation in forensic settings, and psychology and the legal systems —or complete a general program of study. Across the four different specializations and the general program, 7 of the 12 required courses are the same (core courses). Within each of the four areas of specialization, students complete 3 specialization courses and choose 1 elective. All students, regardless of program, also choose a Capstone Course or Field Experience to round out their 12 courses (56 quarter credit hours).

As with any online program, students can pace themselves according to their own timelines and schedules. The courses at Walden are delivered in a prescribed sequence, with two 12-week courses each quarter.  I was unable to find information regarding how long a student has to complete all degree requirements.

Tuition

Students in online degree programs at Walden are charged by the quarter credit hour. The cost per quarter credit hour is $400, which brings the total approximate cost for the online masters degree program to $22,400 (plus some fees). This appears to be in line with other online programs and perhaps slightly higher than many on-campus masters programs at state universities (although certainly comparable to on-campus masters programs for out-of-state students).

Program Description

The online masters degree in forensic psychology is described on the Walden website as follows:

Whether you want to learn more about criminal behavior, explore a new career path, or pursue doctoral-level studies, Walden’s M.S. in Forensic Psychology can help you prepare for emerging opportunities in the field.

Learn research methods to evaluate programs aimed at forensic populations, conduct forensic assessments, and work to enhance systems and programs for incarcerated and recently released offenders and other forensic populations, including juveniles. Walden’s M.S. in Forensic Psychology is one of the only online graduate programs of its kind.

Throughout the program, you will:

  • Gain familiarity with mental health issues surrounding many aspects of criminal behavior and applications within the criminal justice system.
  • Compare, contrast, and evaluate psychological approaches and determine their effectiveness in dealing with criminal offenders.
  • Leverage the benefits of psychology and a deeper clinical understanding to create positive change in the criminal justice system.

The General program is described as follows:

Gain a broad understanding of the forensic psychology field and how its principles are applied in a range of settings from correctional institutions to court systems to community-based programs. In this specialization, select electives that will build your knowledge of how forensic psychology professionals work within the legal system and in community-based programs with an emphasis on preventing and reducing criminal behavior.

The description of the Forensic Psychology in the Community specialization:

At the end of 2007, more than 5.1 million adults were supervised in their communities, either on parole or probation. In this specialization, learn more about prevention, intervention, and consultation programs for criminal offenders in their communities. Understand the foundations of community crime prevention and restorative justice for victims and offenders. Prepare to work with crime prevention programs, early intervention youth programs, victim advocate programs, and other programs to reduce crime and recidivism.

The Mental Health Applications specialization:

Many adult and juvenile offenders suffer from mental health issues that must be addressed if they are to return to their communities and lead productive lives. In this specialization, learn to evaluate and use traditional forms of intervention, including individual and group psychotherapy, as well as recent innovations in restorative justice. Gain the skills to work directly with individuals in correctional facilities, community mental health agencies, and through the court system.

The Program Planning and Evaluation in Forensic Settings specialization:

In today’s evidence-based treatment environment, programs must be constantly reviewed to determine if they are working. In this specialization, learn to conduct and apply forensic mental health research to various legal settings and to formulate research that applies to psychology and public policy. Discover tools to evaluate current programs and assess their effectiveness, and recommend treatment alternatives for forensic populations in community-based programs and correctional institutions.

The Psychology and the Legal Systems specialization:

In today’s complex legal system, forensic psychology professionals constantly provide their expertise on issues that intersect psychology and the law. In this specialization, explore the many ways you can interact with the court system as you gain a basic understanding of expert testimony, jury selection, and eyewitness testimony. Discover how you can work with police departments or other law enforcement agencies assisting in officer selection and training, stress management, critical incident stress debriefing, hostage negotiations, and selection of special operations officers.

Admission Requirements

Applicants are expected to have completed a bachelor’s degree. The Walden website did not specify any additional requirements in terms of an expected Grade Point Average (GPA) but, rather, just stated that academic record, goal statement, and relevant work experience would be considered in admission decisions.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) does not appear to be required for admission to Walden’s degree program as I could find no mention of it on their website.

Licensure as a Psychologist

Perhaps the most important thing to know about this program is that it does not lead to licensure. This means that those who complete this program will not be able to become licensed as a psychologist (either at the Masters level for those states that make this available, or at the Doctoral level) unless a different degree program is subsequently completed by the student.

From the Walden website:

Note on licensure:
The M.S. in Forensic Psychology is not a licensure program and does not prepare an individual to become a licensed psychology professional.

Coursework

Core Requirements (31 credits)

PSYC 6001 Foundations for Graduate Study in Psychology (1 credit)

This course introduces students to Walden University and to the requirements for successful participation in an online curriculum. It provides a foundation for academic and professional success as a scholar-practitioner and social change agent. Topics include the relation of mission and vision to professional goals; development of the program of study and Professional Development Plan; strategies for online success; introduction to the online library; and introduction to critical thinking, professional writing, and academic integrity. Course assignments focus on practical application of writing and critical-thinking skills and promote professional and academic excellence.

FPSY 6101 Introduction to Forensic Psychology (5 credits)

This course provides students with an overview of the areas covered by a broad definition of forensic psychology. In doing so, this course introduces the basic tenets of forensic psychology and the criminal justice system. Topics of study include criminal profiling, police psychology, psychology in the criminal courts, correctional psychology, and others. Assignments focus on providing the student with a broad basic knowledge of the forensic psychology field.

FPSY 6720 Abnormal Behavior (5 credits)

This course is an overview of what is commonly referred to as abnormal psychology; however, what constitutes normalcy is considered from multiple perspectives. Students explore the application of diagnostic criteria in various mental health work settings, such as schools, rehabilitation facilities, community agencies, and private practices. Environmental and biological factors contributing to behavioral disorders are considered using the scholar-practitioner model. Techniques are reviewed for the diagnosis and treatment of cognitive, emotional, and developmental disorders, as well as for psychophysiological and psychosocial problems. Multicultural factors that complicate diagnosis are reviewed.

FPSY 6115 Understanding Forensic Psychology Research (5 credits)

This course aims to help the student better understand how to be an astute consumer of forensic psychology research. Basic principles of statistics, such as reliability and validity, are covered. However, this course places emphasis on teaching the student how to critically read forensic psychology research and how best to apply research results to forensic clinical settings.

FPSY 6125 Assessment in Forensic Psychology Settings (5 credits)

This course covers the varied assessment techniques and instruments used in the forensic psychology arena. Some of the assessment areas covered include risk assessment, juvenile evaluations, lie detection, custody evaluations, and many of the psychological tests and instruments that are used in these assessments. The course will provide a solid foundation of the knowledge of forensic psychology techniques and assessment rather than specific skills in administering and interpreting psychological tests.

FPSY 6135 Criminal Behavior (5 credits)

This course provides students with contemporary views and theories of maladaptive and criminal behavior. A broad conceptualization of criminal behavior, such as that which comes from the sociological and anthropological perspectives, is discussed. Theories and application of criminal profiling will be discussed. Additionally, more specific views of criminal behavior germane to groups such as psychopaths, serial offenders, and sexually violent predators will be addressed.

FPSY 6145 Ethical Issues and Professional Responsibilities in Forensic Psychology (5 credits)

This course provides students with the contemporary knowledge needed to apply ethical practice and professional responsibilities while working as a forensic psychologist. The American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct as well as the American Psychology-Law Society’s Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology are mainstays in this course. Additionally, the various roles and responsibilities of a forensic psychologist are covered.

Specialization Requirements (20 credits)

Forensic Psychology in the Community specialization (the following 3 courses plus one other elective)

FPSY 6530 Forensic Applications in Community Settings (5 credits)

This course is directed at the application of forensic psychology to various community settings. An emphasis is placed on working with offenders upon re-entry to the community and offenders who receive nonincarceration community placements. However, this course will also explore less-common applications such as restorative justice and community crime prevention.

PSYC 6810 Community Psychology (5 credits)

This course introduces students to the basic concepts and practice of community psychology. Guiding values and assumptions of the field, basic ecological concepts, and models of intervention are examined. Topics include diversity in community psychology, social change, primary and secondary prevention, community mental health, empowerment, stress, and resiliency.

COUN 6785 Prevention, Intervention, and Consultation (5 credits)

This course is designed to prepare students for their roles as counselors in prevention, intervention, and consultation endeavors with specific populations in specific settings. Using an action research model, students will prepare a blueprint for a prevention, intervention, or consultation project for a community, agency, or organization.

Mental Health Applications specialization (the following 3 courses plus one other elective)

PSYC 6331 Interviewing and Observational Strategies (5 credits)

This course focuses on principles and skills related to interviewing and observation as well as related legal, ethical, and cultural issues. Students gain practice in conducting interviews, making behavioral observations, collecting and interpreting data during an interview, and developing written reports of findings. In addition to the course materials listed by the university bookstore, this course also requires that students have access to a video recording device, a tripod, and an audio recording device, which they will begin using the first week of class.

FPSY 6511 Treatment of Forensic Populations (5 credits)

This course provides students with the basic knowledge necessary to evaluate and subsequently treat many different forensic populations. Various forensic populations such as sex offenders, substance abusers, victims of crime, and employee assistance to law enforcement personnel will be covered. The use of traditional forms of intervention, such as individual and group psychotherapy, as well as recent developments in intervention, such as restorative justice, will be addressed.

PSYC 6912 Mental Health Law (5 credits)

This course examines several different aspects of the law related to mental health issues. Laws and court decisions that affect the practice of psychology—such as the Tarasoff ruling, mandated reporting, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—are addressed, as are the many areas of law that constitute forensic psychological practice, including civil matters (such as personal injury and civil competency issues) and criminal matters (such as competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, diminished capacity, and death penalty issues).

Program Planning and Evaluation in Forensic Settings specialization (the following 4 courses)

PSYC 6314 Program Evaluation (5 credits)

This course introduces students to evaluation research. Topics include the history and theory underlying program evaluation; approaches to evaluation; procedures and techniques for entering a group for which one would provide evaluation services; selecting appropriate quantitative and/or qualitative models and techniques used to perform the evaluation; strategies for getting gatekeepers to be invested in the development of the research and in the outcomes; demonstration of program effectives; and dissemination of results to stakeholders. (Prerequisites: PSYC 6305 and PSYC 6310.)

PSYC 6305 Statistics 1 (5 credits)

This course provides students with a thorough analysis of basic descriptive and inferential statistical methods commonly used in the social sciences and the skills with which to write, analyze, and critique social science research. Methods include computation and analysis of frequency distributions, measures of central tendency, and statistical hypothesis testing. Statistical tests (and underlying assumptions) include z-score, single-sample, independent-samples and related-samples t tests, analysis of variance, correlation, regression, and chi-square tests. This course includes an introduction to and use of the software Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS).

PSYC 6310 Research Design (5 credits)

This course provides students with a foundation in the design of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method approaches to psychological research. Students learn the strengths and limitations of each method and under what circumstances each approach would be the most appropriate research design. Students learn how to identify a topic for research, how to conduct a literature search, and the importance of scholarly writing. Students learn to write a research proposal, addressing the following key elements: researching, writing an introduction, stating a purpose for the study, identifying research questions and hypotheses, using theory, defining the significance of the study, and collecting and analyzing data. Students are exposed to legal and ethical issues associated with human subjects’ protection. (Prerequisite: PSYC 6305.)

PSYC 6311 Qualitative Analysis (5 credits)

This course focuses on five major traditions of qualitative research methodology: phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, biography, and case study. In the context of each of the traditions, varying approaches to proposal planning, research design, data collection, data analysis, aspects of quality and verification, ethical and legal issues, and interpretation and presentation of results in the narrative report are examined. Emphasis is on how to design a qualitative research project that could serve as the foundation for thesis or dissertation work. (Prerequisite: PSYC 6305 and PSYC 6310.)

Psychology and Legal Systems specialization (the following 3 courses plus one other elective)

PSYC 6912 Mental Health Law (5 credits)

This course examines several different aspects of the law related to mental health issues. Laws and court decisions that affect the practice of psychology—such as the Tarasoff ruling, mandated reporting, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—are addressed, as are the many areas of law that constitute forensic psychological practice, including civil matters (such as personal injury and civil competency issues) and criminal matters (such as competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, diminished capacity, and death penalty issues).

FPSY 6520 Psychology in the Courts (5 credits)

This course examines the skills needed by a forensic psychology professional working in the court system. It examines major roles of psychology professionals and the skills needed to perform their typical duties in the court system. Issues such as consultation, communication, and expert testimony are explored. Additionally, practical skills such as testifying, documentation, and report writing are addressed.

FPSY 6521 Police Psychology (5 credits)

This course focuses on the various roles a forensic psychology professional might have when working with and in a police department. Students examine common issues and challenges faced by police professionals, as well as skills necessary to the forensic psychology professionals who counsel and support the police. Topics including consultation with police, crisis situations, psychological risks of police work, and stress management are explored. Additionally, less well-known roles, such as training in hostage negotiations and the selection of special officers (SWAT, snipers, and tactical commanders), will be reviewed.

General Program (the following 3 courses plus one other elective)

FPSY 6511 Treatment of Forensic Populations (5 credits)

This course provides students with the basic knowledge necessary to evaluate and subsequently treat many different forensic populations. Various forensic populations such as sex offenders, substance abusers, victims of crime, and employee assistance to law enforcement personnel will be covered. The use of traditional forms of intervention, such as individual and group psychotherapy, as well as recent developments in intervention, such as restorative justice, will be addressed.

FPSY 6520 Psychology in the Courts (5 credits)

This course examines the skills needed by a forensic psychology professional working in the court system. It examines major roles of psychology professionals and the skills needed to perform their typical duties in the court system. Issues such as consultation, communication, and expert testimony are explored. Additionally, practical skills such as testifying, documentation, and report writing are addressed.

FPSY 6521 Police Psychology (5 credits)

This course focuses on the various roles a forensic psychology professional might have when working with and in a police department. Students examine common issues and challenges faced by police professionals, as well as skills necessary to the forensic psychology professionals who counsel and support the police. Topics including consultation with police, crisis situations, psychological risks of police work, and stress management are explored. Additionally, less well-known roles, such as training in hostage negotiations and the selection of special officers (SWAT, snipers, and tactical commanders), will be reviewed.

Electives (choose 1 of the following)

PSYC 6740 Disaster, Crisis, and Trauma (5 credits)

Specializations: Forensic Psychology in the Community; Psychology and the Legal Systems
This course defines natural and human-made disasters (e.g., war, violence, genocide, terrorist activities), and reviews how they impact the psychology of individuals and groups. Topics include theories of trauma; actions and behaviors following a disaster; stress, coping, and adjustment difficulties; psychological disorders (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder); and available resources to deal with trauma. The course emphasizes the importance and development of culturally appropriate service delivery programs and interventions for individuals affected and traumatized by disasters.

PSYC 6741 Psychology of Terrorism (5 credits)

Specializations: Psychology and the Legal Systems
This course examines the history, philosophy, and techniques of terrorism as well as countermeasures to terroristic threats to public safety. Topics include aspects of international and domestic terrorism with an emphasis on terrorism’s roots, viewed from the broadest possible political, sociological, and cultural perspectives; factors and catalysts attributed to the terrorism phenomenon—including poverty, psychology (e.g., motivational factors, antisocial behaviors), social injustice, oppression, and religion; and the impact of media and technology in aiding and countering terroristic activities.

PSYC 6742 Conflict, Conflict Resolution and Peace (5 credits)

Specializations: Forensic Psychology in the Community; Psychology and the Legal Systems
This course represents a study of conflict, conflict resolution, and peace from psychological and social psychological perspectives. Students examine the concept of conflict and methods of addressing it, including management, resolution, and transformation; theories related to conflict resolution; approaches to conflict resolution, including negotiation and third-party interventions; and social psychological factors that influence conflict and conflict resolution. Students also consider the influence of culture in conflict and conflict resolution; the role of ethics; intractable and international conflicts; the concept of peace; and how third-party approaches can contribute to the peace process. Students apply conflict resolution approaches to conflicts at all levels, from interpersonal to those involving whole nations.

PSYC 6723 Multicultural Counseling (5 credits)

Specializations: Psychology and the Legal Systems
This course is designed to increase students’ awareness and knowledge of, and skills related to, multicultural counseling and the delivery of psychological services. Students explore diversity and identity issues and discuss their impact on the therapeutic relationship. The application of traditional theoretical orientations and current multicultural theories to culturally diverse groups is addressed. Topics include race and ethnicity, sex and gender, sexual orientation, social class, and age and ability.

PSYC 6245 Social Psychology (5 credits)

Specializations: Forensic Psychology in the Community
In this course, you will use the lens of social psychology to examine both social cognitions and social behavior—nearly all phenomena that pertain to the individual in society. You will explore the topics of perceptions, attitudes, relationships and attraction, the motivation to help others, prejudice and aggression, conformity and obedience, group behavior, and the influence of culture, and consider how knowledge of these topics can be used to effect positive social change. Your application of what you learn in this course culminates in a final project in which you develop a plan for using social psychology research to address a significant social problem. Moreover, your learning in this course will extend to your personal and professional life and truly enable you to effect positive social change as a scholar-practitioner committed to doing so.

FPSY 6512 Juvenile Justice, Delinquency, and Development (5 credits)

Specializations: Mental Health Applications; General Program
The focus of this course is on the various aspects of the juvenile justice system and the population that it serves. As such, a thorough understanding of normal juvenile development is provided as a backdrop in which to better apply current juvenile justice codes and case law. The changing landscape of the juvenile justice field based on current research with its population will be covered.

FPSY 6530 Forensic Applications in Community Settings (5 credits)

Specializations: General Program
This course is directed at the application of forensic psychology to various community settings. An emphasis is placed on working with offenders upon re-entry to the community and offenders who receive nonincarceration community placements. However, this course will also explore less-common applications such as restorative justice and community crime prevention.

PSYC 6728 Substance Abuse Therapies (5 credits)

Specializations: Mental Health Applications
This course examines psychological aspects of addictions involving alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal substances. Current research in the field of dependency and addiction is explored. Topics include diagnosis, models of treatment, treatment planning, use of group and family treatment plans, and efficacy of treatment. Strategies to promote change, including the transtheoretical model of behavior change, are discussed.

COUN 6785 Prevention, Intervention, and Consultation (5 credits)

Specializations: Mental Health Applications
This course is designed to prepare students for their roles as counselors in prevention, intervention, and consultation endeavors with specific populations in specific settings. Using an action research model, students will prepare a blueprint for a prevention, intervention, or consultation project for a community, agency, or organization.

Capstone Course or Field Experience (5 credits)

FPSY 6915 Field Experience (5 credits)

This is a 12-week practical field experience in a setting specific to the degree and the student’s anticipated employment setting or service population. Students choosing this option will work a specified amount of time per week in the setting and participate in this weekly field experience course with peers. In the course, students will discuss their experiences in the setting and how they fit with the knowledge learned throughout the program.

Concluding Comments

I was a bit surprised that this online program seemed a little more rigid than others, with having a prescribed sequence to the coursework and the necessity of taking 2 courses each quarter. The downside to this is that a student would presumably have to skip a quarter if he or she was unable to take 2 courses at the same time (or perhaps students can take 1 course each quarter for 2 quarters?).

Although the credit hours appear, on the surface, to be higher for this program than for others, the fact is that this program requires 12 courses, which is typical of most masters degree programs (Walden just counts their credit hours a bit differently than most).

As with other online masters degree programs, students should be aware that this degree does not lead to licensure. This is most likely a function of the lack of clear, well-defined opportunities for clinical experience in an atmosphere of supervision by licensed professionals. Walden University does claim on its website materials that these masters degree programs can be applied toward their online doctoral programs in psychology, although I would not expect that these masters degree programs would be transferable toward campus-based doctoral programs at other institutions.

The Program Planning and Evaluation in Forensic Settings specialization appears to provide the basic coursework for conducting research in forensic settings and is the program of specialization that I would recommend for students who might be interested in continuing their education to the doctoral level. Although most doctoral programs have stringent criteria for transferring coursework from masters programs, these courses appear to provide a solid foundation for doctoral research and, even if not transferrable, will assist in preparing the student for the rigors of doctoral-level coursework.