Career Development

How To Become a Forensic Psychologist

February 22, 2021

A forensic psychologist holds a highly specialized position within the legal system. This career path requires a great deal of education, so it's important to understand what the job entails before you begin schooling. Evaluating the responsibilities of a forensic psychologist can help you determine whether this field is right for you. In this article, we explore what a forensic psychologist does and how you can become one.

What does a forensic psychologist do?

Forensic psychologists specialize in applying psychological principles to matters within the legal system. They may work with both criminal and civil matters. Forensic psychologists typically examine the psychology behind certain actions and use this information to assist with various aspects of the legal process.

A forensic psychologist can perform many tasks, including working with:

  • Juries
  • Attorneys
  • Inmates
  • Police

Juries

A forensic psychologist might:

  • Assist with juror selection
  • Inform the jury on psychological matters pertaining to the case
  • Evaluate why jurors acted in a particular way

Attorneys

A forensic psychologist working with attorneys may:

  • Evaluate litigating parties
  • Serve as an expert witness
  • Provide consultation on an individual's state of mind
  • Determine whether a defendant is competent to stand trial

Inmates

A forensic psychologist working with inmates provides counseling, including:

  • Offer rehabilitative treatment
  • Screen incoming prisoners to assess the risk for violence
  • Conduct group counseling sessions for inmates
  • Assess inmates and provide recommendations regarding their readiness for parole

Police or other investigators

A forensic psychologist working with police and/or investigators can:

  • Evaluate the crime scene
  • Develop criminal profiles
  • Assess likely suspects
  • Assist in evaluating the criminal's behavior

Average salary for a forensic psychologist

Indeed does not maintain salary data specific to forensic psychologists. However, the average hourly earnings for professionals in similar fields ranges from $35.73 an hour for a mental health technician. Some other related positions and their average wages include:

Salaries vary based on the place of employment and the experience and education level of the individual.

Read More: 15 Top Psychology Degree Jobs

How to become a forensic psychologist

Forensic psychology is a complex field. All jobs require a minimum of a bachelor's degree, while some require more advanced education. The following steps will help prepare you for employment as a forensic psychologist.

  1. Get a relevant bachelor's degree.
  2. Pursue an advanced degree.
  3. Obtain licensure.
  4. Gain professional experience.
  5. Pursue board certification.

1. Get a relevant bachelor's degree

You must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree to work as a forensic psychologist. There are several educational programs relevant to this field. You might pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Forensic Psychology, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice with a specialty in Forensic Psychology or a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with a focus on Forensic Psychology. If you choose to major in criminal justice, you should minor in psychology. Alternately, those who major in psychology should minor in criminal justice.

Many master's degree programs will only accept applicants with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, so you should keep this in mind if you're interested in attending graduate school.

2. Pursue an advanced degree

Though a graduate degree is not required for all jobs in forensic psychology, it is preferred by many employers. Some schools offer a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology. Others have a Master of Arts in Psychology program with a specialization in forensic psychology. Some of these master's degrees are available online.

You may also choose to get a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). This is required if you want to pursue licensure as a forensic psychologist.

Read More: When a Professional Degree Will Help You Advance in Your Career

3. Obtain licensure

You typically need a state license in psychology to serve as an expert witness in court or evaluate individuals on behalf of the legal system. Requirements vary by state, but most require that you have a doctorate and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) provided by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This exam includes an eight-part knowledge-based test and a computer-based skills assessment.

4. Gain professional experience

Professional experience is necessary to advance your career further in the field of forensic psychology. With a minimum of a bachelor's degree, you can apply for a position as a special agent in psychology and counseling with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You may also qualify for a position as a forensic program associate or behavioral health specialist. Your career opportunities will increase as you further your education.

Read More: 6 Mental Health Jobs and Ways To Succeed in the Field

5. Pursue board certification

To reach the pinnacle of this career field, you should pursue board certification. The American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) offers a Diploma in Forensic Psychology. This is the only postdoctoral certification in this field that's recognized by the American Psychological Association. To get this board certification, you must have a doctoral degree, state licensure, 100 hours of education and 1,000 hours of practical experience in the field.

FAQs about forensic psychologists

Forensic psychology is a very specialized area. It's important to understand what's involved in this type of career before you begin pursuing your education. These common questions will help you understand forensic psychology further.

How are forensic psychologists different from other psychologists?

Most psychologists work primarily with patients. However, forensic psychologists are focused on the legal system. Though they may counsel inmates, they do not provide general counseling to the rest of the population. Their work is generally focused on crime and criminals.

What coursework is involved in a forensic psychology degree program?

Forensic psychology programs include classes on criminology, law, psychology, social sciences, research and statistics.

How long does it take to become a forensic psychologist?

It takes about four years to complete a bachelor's degree which can help you get an entry-level position in forensic psychology. Completing your master's degree takes another two years, and earning a doctoral degree takes two to four years more. To obtain board certification, you will need approximately six to seven months of full-time work experience to get the required 1,000 hours.

What is a forensic psychologist's schedule like?

Forensic psychologists typically enjoy a regular schedule, working standard daytime hours from Monday through Friday.

What skills are most important for a forensic psychologist?

Forensic psychologists must have strong critical thinking skills. This job involves research and evaluation. You should be logic-minded and deductive. Forensic psychologists may counsel others or testify in court, both of which require excellent verbal communication skills. Written communication skills are important as well for preparing reports and research papers.

These professionals work closely with the legal system so they must have high ethical standards. You should also be comfortable with potentially disturbing situations working with criminals or evaluating crime scenes.

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