Forensic psychologists are scientist-practitioners. They apply psychological knowledge, theory, and skills to the understanding and functioning of legal and criminal justice systems, and to conducting research in relevant areas. Forensic Psychology is part of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The program offers high-quality upper-division courses and advice designed to prepare students for a wide variety of careers related to Forensic Psychology, as well as providing graduates with a solid foundation for postgraduate study. The experiences assist and encourage students as they continue the process of understanding the nature of their personal Christian commitment and seek to integrate these insights into their academic disciplines and their vocational choices.
Forensic psychology is a broad field that applies the principles of psychology to the criminal justice system and criminal law. Forensic psychologists consult law enforcement agencies to incorporate psychology into both criminal and civil matters. Your responsibilities will include selecting judges, evaluating witnesses, and conducting mental health evaluations.
Forensic Psychology – Overview:
Forensic psychologists are scientist-practitioners. They apply psychological knowledge, theory, and skills to the understanding and functioning of legal and criminal justice systems, and to conducting research in relevant areas. They often work in criminal, civil, and family legal contexts and provide services for litigants, perpetrators, victims, and personnel of government and community organizations. Forensic psychology is the interaction of the practice or study of psychology and the law.
Psychologists interested in this line of applied work may be found working in prisons, jails, rehabilitation centers, police departments, law firms, schools, government agencies, or in private practice, to name a few. They may work directly with attorneys, defendants, offenders, victims, pupils, families, or with patients within the state’s corrections or rehabilitation centers. Other psychologists interested in forensic psychology focus on the study of psychology and the law. They may work in colleges, universities, government agencies, or in other settings interested in researching and examining the interaction of human behavior, criminology, and the legal system.
Forensic psychologists are employed in a variety of areas, including:
- Courts and other tribunals.
- Mental health (both general services and forensic mental health services).
- Corrections (adult and juvenile, prisons and community).
- Child protection.
- Family services (e.g., family violence counseling services, parent training programs).
- Alcohol and other drug services.
- Rehabilitation services (e.g., pain clinics, head injury services).
- Academia, research, and policy organizations.
- Private practice.
What does a Forensic Psychologist do?
1. Criminal investigation and Law:
Forensic psychology involves applying psychology to the field of criminal investigation and the law. Forensic psychologists are often involved in both criminal and civil matters such as civil lawsuits, custody disputes, and insurance claims.
2. Family Courts:
When forensic psychologists work in family courts, they offer psychotherapy services, investigate reports of child abuse, perform child custody evaluations, and conduct visitation risk assessments.
3. Civil Courts:
The forensic psychologists that work in the civil courts provide psychotherapy to crime victims, assess competency, and provide second opinions.
4. Criminal Courts:
Those forensic psychologists in the criminal courts provide an assessment of juvenile and adult offenders, conduct evaluations of mental competency, and work with child witnesses.
5. Conduct Their Own Research:
Forensic psychologists will often conduct their own research, as well as study and analyze research from other professionals.
6. Study Criminals and Their Crimes:
They may study criminals and their crimes to figure out what traits certain types of criminals have, which may involve interviewing criminals along with their loved ones and victims.
7. Act As Expert Witnesses:
Forensic psychologists may also act as expert witnesses during criminal trials, and give testimonies about why a crime may have occurred. They may also express why they believe a defendant was likely to have committed the crimes in question. A forensic psychologist might also have an influence on a criminal’s sentencing.
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Skills and competencies of forensic psychologists:
In addition to specific education and other requirements for the job, forensic psychologists must possess the following skills in order to perform their jobs successfully:
1. Communication skills:
These individuals need to communicate regularly with judges, inmates, crime victims, and attorneys. They need to adjust their communication style depending on the situation and have strong speaking and listening skills as well.
The work can become taxing and emotional, and individuals must maintain objectivity regardless of who they work with, whether a criminal, victim, attorney or other parties. Forensic psychologists must also avoid getting emotionally attached to any of the parties they interact with.
3. Critical thinking:
Forensic psychologists must be able to make critical observations of various parties, interpret research data, and make timely, informed decisions.
4. Attention to detail:
The job relies on perceptive observation and analysis of factors such as body language.
Forensic psychology brings a human element to a government system, and it’s important to have compassion for involved parties while maintaining objectivity.
6. Strong research ability:
Research skills are necessary whether a forensic psychologist conducts formal and experimental research or is cross-checking the formal conclusions of an opposing expert witness.
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How Do I Become a Forensic Psychologist?
Following are the steps required to become a Forensic Psychologist.
Step # 1: Enroll in an undergraduate program:
Make sure to choose a relevant major, such as psychology, criminal justice, or forensic psychology. Applicable degrees typically take four years to complete.
Step # 2: Apply for undergraduate internships or research positions:
Gaining experience after graduation or as part of your bachelor’s degree gives you real-world experience and improves your chances of acceptance into a graduate program.
Step # 3: Complete a master’s degree in forensic psychology:
A master’s program generally takes two years and prepares you for a Ph.D. program. To graduate, many schools require a final practicum that you may complete by working in courts, prisons, police departments, or other related sites.
Step # 4: Earn a doctoral degree in forensic psychology:
The program takes at least four years to complete and allows you to explore a specific area of forensic psychology.
Step # 5: Register with the American Board of Professional Psychology:
An optional step, if you hope to eventually become a certified forensic psychologist you might choose to register with ABPP while enrolled in your doctoral program.
Step # 6: Present a dissertation:
Your doctoral studies culminate with a heavily researched and detailed dissertation.
Step # 7: Complete required hours of professional experience:
After graduation, you must complete a certain number of hours established by your state to earn your license.
Step # 8: Pass the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology:
In addition to field experience, forensic psychologists must pass the EPPP to earn licensure.
Step # 9: Apply for your clinical psychologist license:
Once you complete the required hours of practice and pass the exam, you can apply for your license.
Step # 10: Apply for board certification:
An optional step, you may pursue ABPP certification in forensic psychology.
Forensic Psychology Education Requirements:
The minimum degree requirement for forensic psychologists is a master’s, but a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree is recommended. Licensing is essential for all practicing psychologists and can be obtained by taking examinations through the state psychologist licensing board. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) classifies forensic psychology as a recognized specialty and offers certification examinations.
To become a forensic psychologist, it is beneficial to have a minor in law. Some forensic psychologists have doctorates in both psychology and law. Because the application of forensic psychology deals specifically with how psychology works with the law, most jobs require varying levels of legal studies. This is a relatively new facet of psychology and forensic psychologists are encouraged to participate in continuing education programs throughout their careers.
Forensic Psychology Career Pathways:
There are a variety of paths a forensic psychologist may take.
Some work specifically with crime victims. A forensic psychologist counsels rape and abuse victims of all ages before, during, and after court trials. They also assist victims in dealing with the stress of reliving the crime when the victims appear on the witness stand.
On occasion, the forensic psychologist will testify as an expert witness to explain to a judge and jury the effects of the crime on the victim. Other forensic psychologists work with the accused. These psychologists consult with persons being charged with crimes and assess the competency levels of the accused.
The forensic psychologist often determines whether or not the accused has a clear enough understanding of right and wrong to stand trial. They may make a recommendation to a judge that the accused be sent to an institution for therapy prior to or in lieu of a court trial. These psychologists also work with those who have been convicted of crimes if part of the sentence includes rehabilitative therapy.
Some forensic psychologists go into private practice and work as consultants, but this is rare. Others have opportunities in research facilities. Primarily, forensic psychologists work in correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies, and mental health institutions. They may also be members of law and psychology departments in an academic setting or community health organizations and probation departments may employ forensic psychologists.
Examples of possible careers include the following:
- Consumer research
- Criminal researcher
- Expert witness
- Intelligence analysis
- Law enforcement agencies
- Licensed forensic psychologist
- Jury consultant
- Marriage and family therapy
- Organizational research
- Psychologist: developmental, experimental, forensic, industrial, etc.
- Work with criminal and juvenile offenders
- Work with trial lawyers
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Forensic Psychologist Responsibilities
As a forensic psychologist, you’ll need to:
- Carry out one-to-one assessments, often to assess the risk of re-offending (e.g. for lifers being released into the community or sex offenders after a treatment program), suicide, self-harm, or other high-risk behavior
- Develop, implement and review appropriate offender treatment and rehabilitation programs, including anger management, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, and social and cognitive skills training
- Undertake research projects to evaluate situations affecting prisoners, e.g. investigating the impact of bullying in prisons or the effectiveness of an anger management program
- Undertake statistical analysis for forensic offender profiling
- Deliver training to support forensic staff in areas such as stress management, or training on how to cope with understanding bullying and techniques for crisis (hostage) negotiation
- Provide expert witness testimony at court, for parole boards and mental health tribunals
- Contribute to policy and strategy development to ensure continuous service improvement.
You may also need to:
- Work with victims of crime and the general public in relation to their fear of crime
- Conduct applied research
- Design and deliver training
- Provide organizational consultancy.
Forensic Psychology Internship Opportunities:
Forensic psychology education requirements typically include an internship or practicum. Since forensic psychologists complete much of their daily job responsibilities in the field, these internships and practicums can prepare students for their postgraduate careers.
Whether a program requires an internship or practicum depends on the degree level and school. Internships and practicums allow students to complete hands-on experience that helps them connect competencies to career responsibilities.
The main difference between practicums and internships is the scope of work students can perform. Learners involved in practicums typically observe psychology professionals conduct common responsibilities, including counseling patients or suggesting treatment plans. In internships, students complete most of their work independently, reporting to a supervisor, but not working directly with them.
Settings for psychology internships differ depending on the type of psychology learners want to practice after graduation. Forensic psychology students often pursue internships or practicums in prisons, government settings, or research institutes, focusing on the type of work they want to pursue after graduation. Students can browse this page to learn more about psychology internships and practicums.
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Job Outlook for Forensic Psychologists:
According to the American Psychological Association, the job prospects for forensic psychologists look good for various reasons. First of all, this is a relatively young field of practice; the APA itself did not recognize it as a specialty until the year 2001 despite the existence of quite a few landmark cases that have involved the valuable input of behavioral observations.
As a private practice, the APA estimates that forensic psychologists can earn median salaries of $200,000 per year, but this is mostly in the purview of professionals who have pursued doctoral degrees. It is more reasonable to look at the figures compiled by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics for psychologists, who are estimated to experience a growth in demand in excess of 14% over the next 10 years.
In 2019, the median pay for American psychologists was $79,010 per year, which works out to almost $40 per hour. The chances for a forensic psychologists to earn higher salaries are greater because of their specialized training. As previously mentioned, forensic psychologists who earn doctoral degrees and establish their own practice will likely be retained by top law firms and research institutes, but those who earn a master’s degree will find it easier to obtain more lucrative positions in the court systems, law enforcement departments, and government agencies.
Forensic Psychologist Salary Information:
- Trainee Forensic Psychologist: Trainee forensic psychologists working for HM Prison Service (HMPS) can be paid a starting salary of between £27,021 and £34,461.
- Qualified Forensic Psychologist: Fully-qualified, registered psychologists within HMPS earn between £37,218 and £46,846, while senior registered psychologists can earn £41,586 to £53,952.
Salaries for forensic psychologists within the NHS are at a similar level. Those in training are on Band 6 of the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scale and earn £31,365 to £37,890, while fully-qualified psychologists (Band 7) earn between £38,890 and £44,503. With higher levels of experience, salaries of more than £51,668 can be reached.
Salaries in other areas of work may vary. Additional benefits may include a competitive pension, childcare vouchers, a cycle to work scheme, and travel loans.
Forensic Psychologist Working hours
As a forensic psychologist, you’ll usually work a 37-hour week from Monday to Friday, although there may be some flexibility required.
Job-share and part-time working options are possible and you may be able to take a career break depending on the employer. With experience, and if you’d like to focus on the consultancy side of the role, it might be possible to become self-employed or carry out freelance work.
To Sum Up:
Forensic psychology has grown in the past 20 years. It is a broad applied field that offers numerous opportunities to the practitioner. Forensic psychologists work in many different legal environments, writing reports, giving testimony, doing direct treatment or working with therapeutic communities.
This field of psychology is often focused on the criminals themselves. Professionals in this field are often given the sinister responsibilities of trying to figure out why certain types of people commit crimes; what type of person commits a crime; and how to prevent people from committing crimes.
It is a very interesting field for the young generation.