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If you Build it, They Will Come: New Special Concentration in Forensic Psychology Offered at StFX

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22 Mind Pad – Fall 2014
ABSTRACT
In its simplest form, psychology is the study of the
human mind and behaviour. At many undergraduate
universities, students can learn about a variety of
sub-fields within the discipline of psychology, includ-
ing Forensic Psychology. St. Francis Xavier University
(StFX) is now offering psychology students a way to
receive hands-on training in the domain of Forensic
Psychology through the launch of their new “Special
Concentration in Forensic Psychology.” This 2-year of-
fering provides students with the opportunity for spe-
cialized academic training and hands-on experiences
by participating in practicum placements at forensi-
cally-relevant sites (e.g., correctional facilities, parole
offices), while completing courses relevant to their
regular 4-year Bachelor of Arts degree. Each March,
students host an annual “Forensic Psychology Day @
X” conference, where criminal justice and correctional
professionals come to StFX to share their wisdom and
experience with current students. A call for applica-
tions for prospective students is issued and due every
March.
______________________________________________________
RÉSUMÉ
Dans sa forme la plus simple, la psychologie est l’é-
tude de l’esprit et du comportement humains. Dans
de nombreuses universités de premier cycle, les
élèves peuvent s’initier à différents sous-domaines de
la psychologie, dont la psychologie judiciaire. Avec le
lancement de sa nouvelle concentration en psycholo-
gie judiciaire, l’Université St. Francis Xavier offre dé-
sormais aux étudiants en psychologie la possibilité
de recevoir une formation pratique dans ce domaine.
Cette formation de deux ans offre aux étudiants l’oc-
casion de suivre une formation universitaire spécial-
isée et d’acquérir de l’expérience pratique en faisant
un stage dans des milieux où s’exercent des activités
médicolégales (p. ex., établissements correctionnels,
bureaux de libération conditionnelle), tout en suivant
les cours pertinents dans le cadre de leur programme
de baccalauréat ès arts général de quatre ans.
Chaque année, en mars, les étudiants organisent la
«Forensic Psychology Day @ X», une journée où des
professionnels de la justice pénale et du milieu cor-
rectionnel viennent à l’Université St. Francis Xavier
pour partager avec les étudiants inscrits au pro-
gramme leur sagesse et leur expérience. En mars de
chaque année, l’université procède au recrutement
des étudiants potentiels.
__________________________________________________
The discipline of Psychology is a popular field of
study for many undergraduates. In fact, the number
of bachelor’s degrees awarded in psychology be-
tween 1950 and 2006 increased over 900% (approx-
imately 10,000 in 1950 to over 90,000 in 2006;
National Center for Education Statistics, 2010 as
cited in Halonen, 2011). Moreover, the American Psy-
chological Association (APA; 2014) reports that ap-
proximately 15 million students partake in an
introductory psychology course each year. Without a
doubt, there are a variety of reasons as to why Psy-
chology is an attractive area of study for students
(e.g., to better understand themselves or others, an
interest in research). Simply defined, Psychology is
“the study of the mind and behaviour” (VandenBos &
APA, 2007, p. 753; Canadian Psychological Associa-
tion, 2014). One subfield of psychology where this
definition might be very intriguing to students is in
courses dedicated to Forensic Psychology. This do-
main examines topics at the interface of psychology
and law (Grisso & Brigham, 2013). Since its inception
in the latter part of the 19th century when James Mc-
Keen Cattell (1895) began to explore eyewitness tes-
timony and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing studied
pre-trial publicity (1897, as cited in Bartol & Bartol,
If you Build it, They Will Come: New Special
Concentration in Forensic Psychology Offered at StFX
Christopher J. Lively, B.Sc., B.A.
Department of Psychology,
St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia
MindPad Fall 2014_2014 2014-11-12 1:13 PM Page 22
23
Notes d’idées - Automne 2014
1999), Forensic Psychology continued to explode in
the 1960s and 1970s with Milgram’s (1963) study of
obedience, and Zimbardo’s (Haney, Banks, & Zim-
bardo, 1973) study of role acquisition in prisons.
More recently, interest in Forensic Psychology has
been fuelled by the popularity of shows such as Law
and Order, Criminal Minds, Prison Break, Dexter, and Or-
ange is the New Black, but students who study Foren-
sic Psychology soon learn that there is much more to
the subject than Hollywood dramas might suggest. A
new offering at an Atlantic Canadian University now
provides students with practical opportunity to learn
and see the reality of this exciting area of Psychol-
ogy.
The Depar tment of Psychology at St. Francis
Xavier University (StFX) launched a 2-year “Special
Concentration in Forensic Psychology” in September
2013. This is a unique offering for undergraduates
and is intended to enhance their marketable skills
and eligibility for graduate and professional schools.
The Special Concentration evolved over time from its
origins in a single Forensic Psychology course. This
original course (e.g., Psychology 380) was initially de-
signed by Dr. Margo Watt, a clinical forensic psychol-
ogist, who felt strongly about the importance of
providing students with experiential learning. While
classroom training of skills is essential, gaining more
practical (hands-on) experiences can be invaluable.
Par ticipating in practical training experiences can
make the material covered in classroom come to life.
Moreover, research shows that practical learning ex-
periences can foster understanding of material that
might remain elusive in the classroom (e.g.,
Riskowski, Todd, Wee, Dark, & Harbor, 2009). The
Forensic Psychology course at StFX resembles Foren-
sic Psychology courses offered at other Atlantic un-
dergraduate institutions, with topics including:
history of the relationship between psychology and
law; Canadian criminal law; assessment, treatment,
and rehabilitation of offenders; eyewitness testimony;
deception detection; jury decision making; and topics
related to policing. In other ways, however, the StFX’s
The first nine students admitted to the “Special Concentration in Forensic Psychology.” Front left to right: Valerie Lemay, Alli Copp,
Catherine Gallagher, Brenna Gavel, and Brianna Boyle. Back left to right: Stewart Barclay, Justine Lucas, Angelina MacLellan,
Dr. Margo Watt (Program Coordinator), and Chris Lively. (Photo credit: Shelley Cameron-McCarron).
MindPad Fall 2014_2014 2014-11-12 1:13 PM Page 23
course is quite unique. Perhaps, the component that
is most unique, as compared to other Atlantic univer-
sities, and most attractive to students is the field
trips. Students who are fortunate enough to get into
the class soon find themselves travelling to many of
the federal correctional facilities in the Atlantic Re-
gion, visiting the East Coast Forensic Hospital, as well
as provincial and supreme courts to observe trial pro-
ceedings.
Students in the Forensic Psychology course also
are treated to a number of guest speakers who come
to share their wisdom and experience. For example,
an RCMP officer shares with the class the inside story
of police stress. Another RCMP officer explains the
operations of the polygraph while administering it to
one of the students. A forensic hospital psychologist
explains the difference between an assessment of fit-
ness to stand trial and criminal responsibility. A cor-
rectional psychologist explains the theory and
mechanics of forensic risk assessment. Indeed, StFX
students who have completed the Forensic Psychol-
ogy course often indicate that this particular class
was one of their favourite and most memorable due
to the course material, field trip component, guest
speakers, and the yearly Forensic Psychology confer-
ence.
Each March, students in the Forensic Psychology
course play host to the annual “Forensic Psychology
Day @ X” conference (previously known as “CSC@X
Day”). The conference invites professionals from the
criminal justice and correctional fields to come and
share their wisdom and experiences with the Forensic
Psychology students, the campus community, and
the general public. Previous conference speakers have
included some of the aforementioned guest speakers
in the Forensic Psychology course, as well as parole
officers, a prison warden, a deputy sheriff, and a be-
havioural counsellor. Almost every year, conference
participants have had the pleasure of hearing an of-
fender talk about his or her life and learning inside
correctional facilities. Delegates of the conference
often present on a variety of relevant topics including,
mental health initiatives in the Correctional Service
of Canada (CSC), psychological counselling, drug
treatment programs, complex case studies, and
women offenders. One of the biggest highlights of the
conference is a panel of graduated StFX alumni who
have established careers in related forensic settings,
and return to discuss with current students the ways
in which they went from StFX to their current employ-
ment position.
Seeing the interest and response to the Forensic
Psychology course grow so much, and realizing that
no other such program existed at any other Canadian
undergraduate university, Dr. Watt believed that the
development of a 2-year specialized concentration in
forensic psychology studies and practice was the next
logical step. In these times, when universities in At-
lantic Canada struggle to maintain enrolments in the
face of declining populations, programs such as the
Special Concentration can help universities like StFX
to attract and retain students. Interest in this offering
has been growing with students both local to StFX
and from other post-secondary institutions. In fact,
the Special Concentration’s coordinator has received
inquiries from some high school students who desire
to begin their university studies at StFX in order to
participate in this one-of-a-kind opportunity. For stu-
dents who desire to continue with graduate or profes-
sional studies, it is anticipated that participating in
this program will set the alumni apart from graduates
at other universities. Receiving practical hands-on ex-
perience at the undergraduate level, especially in a
forensic setting, is rare and typically not offered at
other institutions. Moreover, for students who elect to
use their degree in more general employment, the
psychology training received in the Special Concen-
tration will serve them well in working with people.
The Special Concentration allows students to com-
plete their regular Bachelor of Arts (BA) studies,
while gaining a specific focus in forensically-relevant
courses (e.g., forensic psychology, abnormal psychol-
ogy, human sexuality, clinical psychology, drugs and
behaviour). Typically, students apply for entry to the
Concentration at the end of their sophomore year;
however, the Special Concentration Selection Com-
mittee welcomes undergraduate student applicants
from all levels. In other words, students may also
apply for entry in their junior or senior years. After
completing the within-concentration requirements,
and fulfilling all of the university’s academic program
requisites, students will receive their regular 4-year
BA degree with a specialization in Forensic Psychol-
ogy. Students in the Special Concentration meet
weekly to prepare for their practicum placements
(e.g., learning about types of clientele and diverse
work environments), ethics, and other professional is-
sues as related to the placement sites. Students also
have the opportunity to give presentations about a rel-
evant forensic topic and their practicum experiences.
One of the main aspects of Special Concentration
is the two 40-hour practica placements that students
24 Mind Pad – Fall 2014
MindPad Fall 2014_2014 2014-11-12 1:13 PM Page 24
must complete; one practicum in each year of the
program. Placement sites might include correctional
facilities, parole offices, the mental health court, or
with children’s aid services. Current students in the
Special Concentration have participated in practicum
placements at a number of sites including, federal
prisons (e.g., Nova Institution for Women, Truro NS;
Springhill Institution for Men, Springhill NS); the Nova
Scotia Youth Facility, Waterville NS; the IWK Youth
Forensic Se rv i ce s , Ha lifax NS ; A ddict i on Ser vices ,
Antigonish NS, and Pictou NS; and the Elizabeth Fry
Society, Sydney NS. It should be noted that place-
ment sites are not limited to locations within Nova
Scotia. In fact, students in the Forensic Psychology
course have completed service learning placements
in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, British Columbia,
and Bermuda. Indeed, students are encouraged to
seek out placements in their home communities.
The inaugural Special Concentration students were
challenged to consider ways in which they could pro-
vide a service to their respective placement sites. Cer-
tainly, the students responded and a number of
different services manifested. For instance, a student
doing a placement with the Elizabeth Fry Society cre-
ated a reference information package for women en-
tering halfway houses with mental illness. Another
student assisted with the leisure and canine pro-
grams at a women’s correctional facility, while some
others helped out with recreational activities at an Ad-
diction Service Detox Centre. Furthermore, two stu-
dents are assisted with co-facilitating a workshop
about suicide awareness and prevention at a male
correctional reception site, and another student pro-
vided basic guitar instruction to women offenders
(see Lively & Watt, 2014). Current students rave
about the practicum experiences, saying that these
practical opportunities have provided an educational
insight into areas or groups of people that are often
misunderstood, fostered a desire to educate others
about correctional populations, and in some cases,
have also helped solidify a chosen career related to
forensic psychology. In fact, this inaugural group have
created poster presentations about their practicum
experiences and learning outcomes, and presented
talks about their respective placements to a group of
interested students and faculty members. The
posters are currently on display within the Psychology
Department at StFX. Indeed, the inaugural “Special
Concentration in Forensic Psychology” class has cre-
ated some buzz within the department, around the
university, and has even garnered local media atten-
tion (e.g., Cameron-McCarron, 2013; Hiltz, 2013).
A call for applications is sent out every March and
prospective students should contact the “Special
Concentration in Forensic Psychology” coordinator,
Dr. Margo Watt (mwatt@stfx.ca), or visit the Special
Concentration’s website (http://sites.stfx.ca/foren-
sic_psychology/) for more information about the ad-
mission criteria and application process. For
additional details about upcoming “Forensic Psychol-
ogy Day @ X” conferences, please also contact Dr.
Margo Watt.
Undergraduate psychology programs in Canada
strive to help students develop skills in critical think-
ing, oral and written communication, statistical analy-
ses, and research methodology. In addition to the
above skills, students who participate in the Special
Concentration also have the privilege of gaining first-
hand experience of seeing the classroom theory
played out in real-life; a rare opportunity at the un-
dergraduate level.
__________________________________________________
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... The exposure to Nova Institution sparked my curiosity about prisons, and inspired me to learn more about the role of psychology in correctional settings. This eventually led me to apply to a new program offering at StFX; namely, a 2-year Special Concentration in Forensic Psychology (Cameron-McCarron, 2013; see Lively, 2014). Shortly after being accepted into the new Concentration, a unique opportunity arose to provide guitar lessons to one of the women offenders at Nova Institution. ...
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