I have been in the Counseling profession for 30 years. I have watched the profession change in many good ways such as licensure, accreditation and expansion into different areas of service. It has always been my pleasure and pride to be a counselor. Of course, there are challenges and annoyances that also come with the profession. One that has always irritated me is that counselors often view themselves as somehow less than, below, or less capable than other mental health providers. I am grateful that the other professions such as social work and psychology exist. They have a purpose and a place. But I have always believed that counselors provide a service that is equal to, and not less than, the other providers.
I began the work of a forensic counselor more by luck than by any planning on my part. An attorney friend had a divorce case and needed a second opinion as to what would be in the children’s best interests. The original opinion was provided to the court by a psychologist trained in rehabilitation. I knew I had the training and experience to work with this family so I blindly stepped into the world of forensic counseling. I had no intention of pursuing this particular area of expertise. I would do this one case and then move on with my professional life of counselor education.
At that time, the experts could listen to each other testify, so there I sat in the court room listening to the psychologist talk about his opinion and pontificate as to how his recommendations were the best for the children. As I was sitting there thinking how different my opinion was from his I heard the judge ask him how two experts could have such divergent opinions. The psychologist’s answer would change my professional life. He looked the judge in the eye and with all the righteous conviction he said: “the difference is easily explained, Dr. Allen is only a counselor and therefore her opinion is suspect”.
Now that annoyed me. In fact it did more than annoy me. I have taken a stand on several mountains in my life and I knew right then that this is one mountain I was going to stand on. I was going to make it my mission to change the perceptions of the attorneys, judges and the family courts as to what licensed counselors were, how they were trained and, most importantly, how they could provide the family court with the best recommendations regarding the interests of children involved in divorce cases. And so it began.
I have worked as a forensic counselor in thousands of cases for the Magistrate courts in Idaho. I have testified hundreds of times and built a reputation as a professional who will take on the most difficult cases that come before the family courts. I have educated the attorneys and judges as to what makes an expert in the forensic arena. They have learned that Licensed Counselors offer what the courts are looking for regarding recommendations that protect the best interests of the children in high conflict divorce cases. They now have the knowledge that counselors are a viable source of forensic experts.
After giving many lectures about becoming a forensic counselor in the family courts on the state, regional and national level, I was asked to write a book about the practical, step-by-step approach to become a custody evaluator, mediator, or case manager in the family courts. The book, Counseling in the Family Law System, provides those counselors and other mental health professionals the basics of education, interviewing parents and children, working with attorneys and judges, writing reports, testifying in court and making money as a forensic counselor. There is no other book available that gives specific instruction as to how to enter the forensic field in the family courts and how to be successful as a forensic counselor. It is easy to read and follow; it is practical and covers the basics and more. I wish I had such a book when I started all those years ago. Luckily, you don’t have to make all the mistakes I made at the beginning: you have a text that can get you started and save you from (at least some) blind wandering.
Working in the family courts is a wonderful and fulfilling experience. I hope you will consider becoming a forensic counselor. I know you can make a difference in a child’s life. We are educated for this field. We have the clinical skills necessary for this field. Being a counselor is just what the family courts need-- I hope you take the leap and try it.