BVU is home to Iowa’s only Board Certified Forensic Psychologist
Buena Vista University students who are interested in the field of forensic psychology don’t have to look far for expert advice and unique and first-hand experiences. Instead, they can look to BVU’s Dr. Tracy Thomas, assistant professor of psychology, who is the only forensic psychologist certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) with a practice in the state of Iowa.
Forensic psychology is defined by the ABFP as the “application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system.”
To receive board certification by the ABFP, a candidate must first complete educational, training and experience requirements of the specialty of forensic psychology. The person must also pass an exam designed to assess the competencies required to provide quality services in the field, provide work samples that are approved by a panel of board certified forensic experts, and successfully complete an oral examination.
Thomas’ interest in the psychology underlying criminal behavior is what initially attracted her to a career in forensic psychology.
“I also had an interest in the law and how psychology could help the criminal justice and legal systems make better decisions,” said Thomas. “Because forensic psychology deals with the application of psychology to the law, forensic psychology was a perfect fit.”
Thomas began her career at BVU in 2011 as an adjunct professor, before joining as full time faculty in 2014. In this role, Thomas teaches various courses, including abnormal psychology, counseling, psychopathology and psychological disorders, developmental psychology and forensic psychology.
“I enjoy working with students and the learning process, and I wanted to be able to incorporate teaching into my everyday work,” said Thomas.
“I like the idea of exposing young people to the field of forensic psychology and helping them discover their passions and career paths.”
In addition to being a professor at BVU, Thomas maintains a private practice, Thomas Forensic LLC. In this role, Thomas offers forensic evaluation and consultation in criminal and civil matters and is available to provide training in a number of areas related to forensic psychology. Thomas’ private practice work equips BVU students with special networking opportunities and practical observation experiences, including shadowing Thomas when she testifies in court as an expert witness.
“My actual experience ‘in the field’ allows me to give students a real look at what forensic psychologists do,” said Thomas.
“I use real cases in my classes, which are usually much more nuanced than what is found in a textbook. I also find that students learn more when they are working with a real case and with the person who was the expert on the case; I can provide more detail and explanation of the case than I can with a made-up textbook example.”
According to Thomas, many areas of study (in addition to psychology) can be applied to the field of forensic psychology, including criminology and criminal justice and pre-law.
“Many students don’t realize how a background in forensic psychology can be advantageous to their career,” said Thomas.
“There tend to be a lot of misconceptions about forensic psychology, due in large part to inaccurate portrayals on television, so I help students to correctly understand what forensic psychology is and how they can apply psychological knowledge to their other fields of interest.”
Prior to joining BVU, Thomas worked as a psychologist/evaluator and as a clinical director in the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. In these roles, Thomas regularly completed risk assessment evaluations and psychological assessments of individuals civilly committed as sexually violent predators or as mentally ill.
Thomas received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from West Virginia University and completed her pre-doctoral internship at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo. After earning her doctoral degree, Thomas spent a year as a postdoctoral forensic fellow at Minnesota State Operated Forensic Services in St. Peter, Minn., where she received specialized training and experience in forensic evaluation. Thomas holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Minnesota State University – Mankato and bachelor degrees in psychology and Spanish from Drake University.