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Course spotlight: ‘Trauma and Crisis’ in forensic psychology

In The Chicago School’s "Trauma and Crisis" course, forensic psychology students take a closer look at how PTSD in both inmates and corrections officers impact the conditions within correctional facilities.

Roughly 33 percent of incarcerated men have severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s in addition to the 60 percent who reportedly have moderate to severe PTSD symptoms, according to Criminal Justice and Behavior: SAGE Journals.

On top of that, corrections officers in the U.S. suffer from PTSD at more than double the rate of American military veterans, making correctional facilities one of the most critical environments for forensic psychologists to play a role.

“Our ‘Trauma and Crisis’ intervention class is two-pronged,” says adjunct professor Andrew Cassens, Psy.D., from The Chicago School’s Forensic Psychology Department. “This class helps forensic psychology students better understand how criminal behavior might be influenced by a prior history of trauma. In a forensic setting, you learn how to address someone in terms of treatment. In addition, students in the Trauma and Crisis course learn how trauma-related conditions affect a broad spectrum of clinical populations, including the impact on professionals working in various clinical/forensic settings (i.e., correctional officers).”

When Dr. Cassens first started teaching the forensic psychology course in 2008, he knew he wanted to separate it from other courses in the forensic psychology program that may not always speak to the culture and behavior found in correctional facilities. Over the past decade, the course has evolved from two credits to three credits and the forensic psychology program has now added a professional counselor licensure track.


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“Now that students are eligible for licensure, they could potentially work for organizations such as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs,” Dr. Cassens says. “Federal employment may also be an option, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is an excellent employment route for our students. The court system, child protective services, or adult protective services would also be career ideas after taking the ‘Trauma and Crisis’ course.”

The reason these kinds of career paths are ideal is that after taking the course, students know how to assess trauma-related conditions; provide treatment in correctional facilities or counseling centers; and learn how to screen people for post-traumatic stress disorder or other anxiety conditions.

Dr. Cassens speaks from experience and his own clinical work. He has degrees in clinical and forensic psychology and joined the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) as a staff psychologist in 2009. During his tenure with the VHA, Dr. Cassens served as a compensation and pension psychologist, coordinator for a PTSD clinical team, and currently serves as a primary care mental health integration specialist.

“When I start the class, there are exercises regarding how childhood trauma can lead to adulthood trauma,” he says. “Students may be surprised at how childhood incidents may affect people later in life, specifically when it comes to trauma. Students go through a self-awareness process, learning some of their own strengths and limitations while interacting with clients. From student feedback, I’ve learned that students feel more confident in their professional sector, working with various clients and providing them treatment for trauma-related conditions.”


Interested in learning more about The Chicago School’s forensic psychology programs? Visit our forensic psychology programs page or fill out the information below to request more information.


Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Shamontiel L. Vaughn joined TCS Education System’s Marketing Department as the Editorial Writer in February 2017. She has previously worked in digital media with the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Defender, CBS Chicago, and Sun Times Network.


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