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Forensic Psychologist Career Guide

Forensic examiners study human behavior by observing, questioning, and interpreting how people relate to others and how they react to situations in which they find themselves. They carefully research and observe, looking for patterns or behaviors that help them predict how and why an individual reacts the way in which he or she does.

Forensic Psychologist Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Forensic psychologists are specialists that bridge the fields of psychology and criminal justice. Their job includes helping judges, attorneys, and others in the criminal justice system to understand the psychology involved in cases. Forensic psychologists often serve as expert witnesses in court cases; thus, they usually specialize in family court, civil court, and criminal court. In family court, they may evaluate children involved in custody cases or even investigate alleged child abuse incidents. In civil court, they may be asked to provide therapy to victims or to offer second opinions in psychology-related matters. In criminal court, forensic psychologists may be asked to evaluate a defendant to determine whether he or she is competent to stand trial or to work with witnesses who may be considered delicate, such as children or victims of violent crimes. Effective forensic examiners must possess such personal characteristics as emotional stability, maturity, and the ability to deal with others with sensitivity and compassion. In addition, forensic psychologists must be able to communicate clearly with a variety of people – adult victims, children, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges.

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How to Become a Forensic Psychologist: Requirements and Qualifications

A doctoral degree is necessary to pursue practice as a forensic psychologist. Graduate students must complete a doctoral degree in general psychology. Many universities offer a forensic psychology specialization. However, to earn certification in forensic psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology, graduates must meet all of the requirements for certification in general psychology as well as additional criteria to earn speciality certification in forensic psychology. To obtain the forensic psychology certification, candidates must:

  • Complete a minimum of 100 hours of “formal education, direct supervision or continuing education in forensic psychology,” according to the American Board of Professional Psychology.
  • Earn a minimum of 1,000 hours of forensic psychology experience. Candidates can gain that experience by completing a minimum of one year of a postdoctoral program or training in forensic psychology.

Forensic Psychologist Job Training

Forensic examiners must complete 1,000 hours of training, which can be obtained through postdoctoral work, prior to being eligible for specialty certification in forensic psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Some forensic examiners hold dual doctorates in psychology and law, which may make them more marketable to employers. Successful psychologists have the ability to think critically and to remain calm in difficult situations, to communicate effectively both written and orally, and have knowledge of the legal system, particularly as it pertains to mental health.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Consulting forensic examiner
  • Forensic psychologist

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Career Opportunities and Employers

Forensic psychologists may work in private practice or may be employed by consulting firms, schools, police departments, prisons, and government agencies, including the FBI, the United States Secret Service, and the Department of Defense.

Forensic Psychology Salary and Outlook

Forensic psychology salaries vary widely, based on education, experience, and geographic location. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide salary information for forensic psychologists but reports a median salary of $69,280 per year for all psychologists.1 The employment of psychologists is expected to increase 12% in the decade from 2012-2022.1 This anticipated growth is due to the expected increasing demand for psychological services in social service organizations and in the criminal justice system. Psychologists who have a doctoral degree in an applied specialty, such as forensic psychology, have the best prospects for finding a job.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What kind of hours does a forensic psychologist work?
A psychologist’s work schedule depends on his employer. Those who are employed by the government, police departments, correctional institutes, and rehabilitation facilities generally work a typical full time, nine to five schedule. Self-employed psychologists, or those who work in private practice, may work irregular hours, including evenings and weekends, to cater to a wider base of clients.

What is the difference between a forensic psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist?
Forensic psychiatrists hold MDs, providing them with the ability to prescribe medication and to order lab tests, and to lead patients in psychotherapy. Forensic psychologists will either possess a PhD or a PsyD and generally specialize in an area not covered by forensic psychiatrists, such as psychological testing.

Can I work as a psychologist with just a master’s degree?
No. To become a certified forensic psychologists, candidates must possess a PhD or a PsyD in psychology and specialized certification in forensic psychology.

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Additional Resources

American Academy of Forensic Psychology – A continuing education resource.

American Board of Forensic Psychology – Board certification information for forensic psychologists.

American Board of Professional Psychology – An educational and certification guide for psychology professionals.

American College of Forensic Psychology – A resource for forensic psychologists.

American Psychological Association – Speciality guides for forensic psychology.

International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology – A global resource for forensic psychologists: The Voice of Psychology in Corrections.

Schools with Forensic Psychology Programs

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Related Careers

Interested in a career similar to forensic psychology? Check out these related careers:

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
2. American Board of Professional Psychology: http://www.abpp.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3356

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.