Mental Health Care Careers & Psychology Services

With a team of over 400 doctoral level psychologists and 650 mental health/substance abuse treatment specialists, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is one of the largest employers of psychologists in the United States. In most BOP institutions, doctoral-level psychologists function as front-line providers of mental health services to inmates.

Departments range in size from a single individual to as many as 10 psychologists, and operate from a community psychology framework. In this framework, the correctional environment is the community and psychologists provide direct services to inmates and consultative services to staff who interact with the inmates while operating the correctional institution.

Direct inmate services may include crisis intervention; long-term, short-term, and group therapies; psychological assessments; and comprehensive substance abuse treatment. Most inmates are self-referred, while some are sent by other staff, or are advised by the Federal Courts or parole boards to seek treatment. In all cases, inmates have the right to accept or refuse psychological services.

Consultative services to staff may range from personnel interviews, employee assistance counseling, and mental health consultation to hostage negotiation or crisis support teams. Opportunities to supervise non-doctoral level treatment staff and to conduct research are also available. For an in-depth review of the policy, procedures, and organization of Psychology Services in the BOP, see the Psychology Services Manual.

Professional Development

The Bureau supports the professional development of psychologists in several distinct ways. The majority of agency psychologists are state licensed, and can offer supervision at no charge to new psychologists who need supervision hours to sit for their own exam. New psychologists in the Bureau are encouraged to obtain their professional license and are supported with training materials to help them study for the exam.

An APA-approved sponsor of continuing education (CE), the Bureau sponsors its own Continuing Professional Education program, and offers each psychologist funding annually to attend professional training and activities. Psychologists who train with the agency receive a significant number of CE credits. Beyond national training meetings and as part of their CE, Bureau psychologists also attend courses such as Introduction to Correctional Psychology, Hostage Negotiation Training, Crisis Support Team Training, and Drug Abuse Program Coordinator Training.

In terms of training students to become professional psychologists, the Bureau is a national leader in offering quality pre-doctoral internship training. Ten of the agency's 13 internship programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation, and the Bureau has helped over 1,000 psychologists complete their doctoral degrees since the 1970s.

Finally, the Federal correctional system provides a rich environment for the study of human behavior. Psychologists are free to pursue their research interests as part of their employment. Bureau psychology treatment programs are empirically based and psychologists are encouraged to develop programs in this manner. Bureau psychologists regularly present papers at national conferences, such as that sponsored by the American Psychological Association, and publish research in psychological and criminal justice journals.