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Counselling and forensic psychology: investigating crime and therapy

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This module draws on recent theoretical debates and research to critically explore the fascinating relationship between counselling and forensic psychology. You'll learn about media representations of crime and therapy and the role of sociocultural issues in both forensic and therapeutic work. You'll be introduced to the most common and effective therapeutic approaches for working with offenders/victims of crime and explore therapeutic and forensic aspects around sex and sexuality. You'll develop an understanding of the dichotomies and emerging themes in this area and the challenges of providing therapy in a forensic setting.

What you will study

This module provides a comprehensive introduction to the fascinating relationship between counselling and forensic psychology in general, and mental health problems and crime more specifically. The module is divided into five blocks, and you'll study a new topic each week.

Some of the topics have been personally triggering for some students, so before signing up, you should look through the topics covered as described below to consider whether this is the right module for you.

Block 1 sets the scene for the module. You'll look at the tensions between therapeutic and forensic settings. In addition, you'll learn how mental health treatments have developed over time and how prisons developed from places designed to hold prisoners before trial to become facilities used as a form of punishment, and the development of forensic mental health. This block will also examine media depictions of crime, forensic psychology and therapy, and discuss whether they are factually based. The block concludes with a look at the diagnosis and categorisation of mental health problems and how being diagnosed or labelled can affect individuals. 

Block 2 explores ‘mad or bad’ identities. You’ll find out about the role of race in how people are seen and treated by mental health and criminal justice services. You’ll learn about how gender influences the ways offenders, victims and clients are seen and treated in the criminal justice system and in the therapy room and mental health services. You’ll study the impact age has on the perception and treatment of offenders and victims/counselling clients, as well as practices for different age groups in both counselling/mental health and the criminal justice system. You’ll also explore the central place of social class in understanding reasons for pathologisation and criminalisation, including the key theoretical debates and research studies to explain class disparities in mental health and crime.

Block 3 explores how the issues of sex and sexuality are covered in forensic and counselling psychology. You’ll find out about sexual assault and abuse involving adults and children, and about how perpetrators and survivors are treated within therapeutic and criminal justice contexts. You’ll cover sex in the therapy room: how counsellors can talk about sex and sexuality with their clients, and also the issues around consent and abuses of power when therapists step over the line and have sexual contact with clients. You’ll study how counselling and forensic psychologists have drawn lines between normal sex and abnormal sex or ‘paraphilias’. You’ll also explore sex work from forensic and counselling perspectives: how and why has this form of work been regarded as a crime over the years.

Block 4 looks at treatment. You'll be introduced to four common approaches in working therapeutically with offenders and victims of crime. You'll explore attachment-based approaches and their notion of different attachment styles dependent on early relationship experiences. You'll examine how strategies and techniques from cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be employed to work with diverse forensic populations and problems, with a specific focus on trauma-focused CBT. You’ll study systemic concepts and how they are used in working therapeutically with young offenders and their families in the community and in secure in-patient settings. You'll also explore mindfulness and how ideas and concepts from this approach can be utilised in counselling and forensic settings.

Block 5 looks at four different topics that explore areas of tension between therapy and the criminal justice system. In this block, you'll explore the controversial topic of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse that are recovered during therapy sessions as an adult and look at the challenges this poses in terms of criminal evidence and prosecution. You'll learn about suicide and self-harm, and where ‘offender’ and ‘victim’ are often one and the same person. You'll find out about how therapy is conducted within a prison or secure unit, including a discussion of therapeutic prisons. At the end of this block, you'll look at the prevention, rather than treatment, of mental health issues and offending behaviour.

Looking at all the different topics covered in this module, you may have noticed that a few of the real-world contexts explored in the module involve issues that some people may find personally emotive or currently sensitive. Individual content warnings will be given before such material is presented, outlining the issues to be covered and suggesting ways in which you might engage with it if it is personally relevant to you.

Supporting study materials
The module is built around a textbook entitled Mad or Bad: A critical approach to counselling and forensic psychology and an extensive module website built around an online study guide. The website contains further teaching to support the chapters in the textbook. The teaching on the website includes videos (e.g. of therapeutic approaches in action) and audio interviews with a number of psychologists, counsellors and criminologists, and a variety of interactive activities to help develop and consolidate your knowledge. You'll also spend some of your study time using The Open University Library’s extensive collection of online resources.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. Prior to studying this module, you should have obtained the necessary study skills to study at OU level 3, either by completing relevant OU level 2 study (e.g. in a social science), but you are not expected to have any special knowledge of psychology.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

You'll be provided with a module textbook and have access to the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • audio-visual material
  • online study guide
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums.

The module textbook is also available electronically through VitalSource. To view the ebook, you will need to download the free VitalSource Bookshelf desktop app.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance.

We aim to provide online tutorials and recordings of these will typically be made available. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorials, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DD310 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Counselling and forensic psychology: investigating crime and therapy starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

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