Houston Studies the Psychology of Criminals and Victims
For Samantha Houston, majoring in psychology and sociology/anthropology at UMF was better preparation than she could have imagined for working toward a master’s degree in forensic psychology. Now at the University of Denver, she is studying all aspects of how psychology intersects with the criminal justice system, including the psychology of criminal behavior, rehabilitation of offenders and treatment of victims.
In fact, at least one of Houston’s graduate-school assignments provoked a sense of “been there, done that.”
“When I learned the class would critique a video of me conducting a counseling interview as part of the mid-term exam, I knew exactly what to do,” Houston said. “I completed the exact same project in my Psychotherapeutic Methods course at UMF.”
Houston’s interest in forensic psychology dates to her sophomore year at UMF, when she completed her Introduction to Counseling course and then undertook a semester-long internship, counseling prison inmates.
“The goal of the program was to help them develop job prospects and a social network outside of the jail to decrease the chances they would re-commit crimes and wind up back in the penal system,” said Houston, whose counseling focus within the psychology major satisfied state of Maine requirements for Mental Health Rehabilitation Technician certification. “In hindsight it was a lot to launch into so early in my undergraduate career, but now I draw a lot upon that experience.”
In her current internship with the Victims’ Justice Initiative in Boulder, Colo., Houston helps victims and their attorneys prepare for legal proceedings, which, despite being an integral part of achieving justice, are often painful experiences for victims.
“The process of giving court testimony, which usually involves re-telling and, thus, re-living the crime has the potential for re-victimizing people in front of perpetrators,” she said. “We prepare victims for the process so they don’t feel as vulnerable.”
Houston said she plans on either earning a law degree and becoming part of the FBI's behavioral science department or becoming an agent in the violent crimes department of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation after completing her master's in forensic psychology. Her career choices reflect the growth of forensic psychology as an academic discipline.
“Most people think of forensic psychology students as going into CSI-type programs for work,” said Houston, referring to the popular Crime Scene Investigation television series and its city-based spin-offs. “The big debate in the field right now is on what forensic psychology actually is. A lot of the research in the field focuses on perpetrators and why they commit crimes. I’m also interested in the psychology of victims, how to treat and advocate for them.”