Dr. Jack A. Apsche has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Speech, and English from the University of Pittsburgh, a master’s degree in Psychological Studies in Education from Temple University and a doctoral degree in Psychoeducational Process and Counseling Psychology from Temple University as well.
In addition to serving as the program director for Walden University’s M.S. in Forensic Psychology program, Dr. Apsche currently directs the Apsche Center for Mode Deactivation Therapy at North Spring Behavioral Healthcare, which provides therapeutic programs for adolescents, promoting growth and self-responsibility. Through his work with children, Dr. Apsche pioneered mode deactivation therapy (MDT), an evidence-based psychotherapeutic technique that focuses on the interplay between trauma, personality factors, and belief systems in the development of behavior problems, such as aggression and sexual offenses.
Dr. Apsche has served as a consultant for a wide range of school programs, healthcare systems, research facilities, and government programs worldwide, including conducting forensic evaluations of adolescent offenders and providing sentencing and treatment recommendations. He is founding editor of The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy.
What in your life led you to choose psychology as a career choice?
At the University of Pittsburgh, I minored in psychology for my bachelor’s degree and then decided to pursue psychology as a career. I wanted to become a psychologist to help people and positively impact their lives. I was always interested in human behavior and motivations, and as I began to seek more information, I was convinced that psychology would be my career.
I later obtained my master’s and doctorate from Temple University in counseling psychology. I have continued to learn, write, and grow in the profession. I have also obtained six board certifications from the American Board of Professional Psychology, and I am the only psychologist to do so. This year, I will pursue my seventh board certification in forensic psychology as I continue to learn and grow.
Can you describe what kind of schooling and training is involved in the field of forensic psychology?
Forensic psychology is the intersection of psychology and the legal system. If you are interested in forensic psychology, you will need to become a licensed psychologist and receive specialized forensic training. In order to practice forensic psychology , you will need graduate training at the master’s and doctoral levels and often a variety of post-doctorate training. At Walden University, where I am a program director, we offer bachelor’s and master’s programs in forensic psychology as well as a specialization in forensic psychology in our doctoral program. Additionally, many institutions like Walden also offer certificate programs in forensic psychology in order for someone to further their knowledge in their chosen area or focus on a new area of interest.
However, once the proper academic credentials are obtained, the best training is by doing the actual practice of forensic psychology. Once you are working on a case and you realize that you are responsible for your decision and clients—both the attorney and individual in question—you master the field of forensic psychology.
What are some of the common myths about the field that you can dispel?
A lot of students want to become forensic psychologists because, quite simply, it seems exciting and interesting. In actuality, it is hard work and a great deal of pressure. There is little room for error, and if you make one mistake, it can negatively impact your life and career as well as your clients. Being a forensic psychologist is far from what is portrayed in television shows or movies as it involves a great deal of reading files and checking and double checking collateral information.
Can you describe what kind of work you have done in the field as a forensic psychologist?
I have evaluated three serial killers during court proceedings in which I served as an expert witness for the defense. This included evaluations, interviews with the defendant, and exhaustive record and literature reviews. In fact, I have written two books on one of the murderers, Gary M. Heidnik, a man who murdered, kidnapped, tortured, and raped six women and kept them prisoner in his Philadelphia home. This book, with co-author Jerry Jennings, is based on a two-year, post-conviction relationship through letters with Heidnik.
Additionally, I have evaluated individuals in capital murder cases for mitigating circumstances, sanity, and competency issues. I have also evaluated adults and juvenile sexual offenders and victims as well as served as a consultant to public and private agencies in the profiling arena.
My work on the Heidnik case and other cases has also allowed me to appear on Investigation Discovery’s “Escaped” and “Evil, I” as an expert evaluating Heidnik and sexual homicide.
What are some difficulties you have run into when working as a forensic psychologist? Difficult parts of the job that a student should be prepared for?
One of the difficulties in working as a forensic psychologist is always obtaining and evaluating collateral information. I believe Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.” You need to formulate your opinion on facts and use reliable and valid testing instruments. You must be aware of the limitations of all tests and assessments and assure that they pass the Frye and Daubert standards, which address reliability and validity of scientific evidence. It is imperative to be familiar with the specific statistics of what makes as assessment reliable and valid, so statistics are essential!
What about your job have you truly enjoyed in the many years you have been doing this?
Teaching others and collaborating with some well-known attorneys has been a terrific experience. I have enjoyed learning from Robert Prentky, Tim Foley, and Robert Sadoff, M.D., who are all extremely competent forensic professionals. It has also been interesting in my role as a program director at Walden to help prepare students for the rigors of their chosen career paths.
You are now the program director at Walden University for forensic psychology. How have you enjoyed moving into academia?
Teaching has always been one of my passions, and Walden provided me with the opportunity to teach new students who are unfamiliar with forensic psychology. I have a chance to get them to feel the same passion as I do for the work and field and help them to make a contribution in the field of forensic psychology. Walden has many outstanding and bright students, and it has been my honor to teach them.
You pioneered Mode Deactivation Therapy. Could you share with us what that is, and how you created it?
Mode Deactivation Therapy (MDT) is an evidence-based treatment for adolescents who are in contextual behavior therapy. MDT includes a comprehensive case conceptualization to determine the function of the specific problem of the adolescent. MDT treatment consists of mindfulness, acceptance, defusion, and validation strategies.
Many clinicians know that mental health disorders in adolescents may manifest externally as aggressiveness, opposition, or isolation from others. What’s less clear is how to move beyond these conduct and defiance issues to help teenage clients cooperate with treatment so they can build healthy social skills and values.
MDT for treating aggression and oppositional behavior in adolescents combines the most effective aspects of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP) to meet the specific challenges of therapists working with angry, distrustful, or hostile adolescents. This evidence-based treatment program is effective with even the most difficult-to-treat adolescents, especially those who struggle with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Complete with assessments and client worksheets, this approach encourages young clients to see alternatives to their antisocial core beliefs and equips them with skills for gaining control of their emotions and oppositional behavior. The skills these clients learn will be useful long after adolescence and can redirect their lives dramatically.
Is there an optimal path of education and experience that can help a student become a successful forensic psychologist?
A psychology background and a willingness to learn and work hard are key to becoming a successful forensic psychologist. There is no specific bachelor’s program that is optimal; however, an undergraduate degree alone will not qualify you for a career in this field. A master’s degree in forensic psychology can provide you with an enormous advantage when going for the terminal degree in the field. It also makes the academic work smoother if you enter the master’s and doctoral program with competence in APA writing style. Lastly, there is board certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology as a forensic psychologist.
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