How to Become a Forensic Psychologist [2021 Guide]

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If you’re interested in a career that allows you to leverage expertise in the field of psychology and work with adult offenders, young offenders, and victims of crime, then you may want to know how to become a forensic psychologist.

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists are key players in the criminal justice system. In addition to working with offenders themselves, they may act as expert witnesses, provide consultation to attorneys, or provide direction to selecting members of a jury.

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When it comes to forensic psychologist careers, there’s a wide variety of options that may be of interest to you.

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Forensic Psychologist with a child

In order to become a forensic psychologist, you need to obtain a license to practice in your state of choice. Licensing requirements may vary from one state to the next, but the following are general requirements:

  1. Doctorate. Earn a PsyD or PhD in Forensic Psychology from an APA accredited university.
  2. Work hours. Accrue a designated number of work hours.
  3. EPPP exam. Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

The minimum passing score for the EPPP and the number of required work hours may vary based on the state you’re choosing to become licensed in.

Though what you can do with a master’s in forensic psychology is a bit limited for getting a job, a bachelors degree and a masters in forensic psychology are general admission requirements for a PhD or PsyD program. One of these two are what degree you need to be a forensic psychologist.

Doctoral programs in forensic psychology may provide you with expert level knowledge in areas of forensic psych, including crime, violence, risk, recidivism, criminal justice, and police psychology. You may also develop an advanced understanding of various research methods in forensic psychology graduate programs.

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Other topics could include practices in working with forensic populations, such as violent criminals or individuals experiencing mental health issues. Investigations, jury trials, and witness testimonies are other areas in the field of forensic psychology in which you may develop expertise.

3 Things You Can Do as a Forensic Psychologist

Forensic Psychologist interviewing a man

What is a forensic psychologist and what jobs can they do? As a forensic psychologist, you may be qualified for a variety of positions that allow you to utilize a diverse range of knowledge and expertise. These positions include clinical counseling, acting as an expert witness, and teaching as a professor.

1. Clinical Counselor

As a clinical counseling forensic psychologist, you may have the opportunity to provide treatment and support to victims of crime, family members of offenders, or offenders themselves.

Clinical counseling may be performed in a professional office setting or within a jail, juvenile detention center, or prison. You may also provide these services in a one-on-one or group setting.

2. Expert Witness

Forensic Psychologist interviewing a witness

As a forensic psychologist expert witness, you may provide insight, evaluation, or testimony to attorneys and within courts of law in regards to criminal offenders and their activity.

This role may require you to interview individuals who have been accused of a crime and perform a forensic evaluation on a number of factors. These evaluation factors may include risks of recidivism, mental health, or treatment proposals.

3. Professor

As a professor, you may play a key role in the development of educational material, learning plans, and course curriculum for adult learners in the postsecondary academic environment.

You may teach students about various facets of the forensic psychology profession, including the relationship between crime and law, the insanity defense, psychology in the court system, and psychopathic behavior.

Forensic Psychology Specialty Areas

Forensic Psychologist with father and child during consultation

Within the field of forensic psychology, there are a number of specialties that you may choose to focus on. Some specialty areas include police psychology, crime and delinquency, victimology, law, and corrections.

  • Police Psychology: You may support police officers by providing clinical counseling and recommendations for managing their mental health. You may also work with police departments in regards to criminal profiling and evaluating accused individuals.
  • Crime and Delinquency: You may work with youth to prevent or address criminal behaviors and tendencies as well as performing research of psychopathy.
  • Victimology: You may provide assistance and advocacy to victims of criminal activity, including the provision of direct clinical counseling.
  • Legal: You may support members of the criminal justice system prior to conviction, such as assessing child custody situations or evaluating an accused’s fitness for trial.
  • Correctional: Your work may pertain to correctional officers and offenders within the prison system. This may include developing recruitment screening tools, or it may involve providing individual counseling to offenders.

In some cases, professional avenues such as teaching or research may be considered additional areas of specialty available to you as a forensic psychologist.

Forensic Psychology Careers & Salaries

Forensic Psychology Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a variety of career paths available to you with a forensic psychology degree.

Careers Annual Median Salary
Forensic Psychologist $105,780
Social Scientist $87,260
Sociologist $86,110
Clinical or Counseling Psychologist $79,820
Psychology Professor $78,180
Chief Jailer $60,910
Survey Researcher $59,870
Correctional Counselor $55,690
Forensic Social Worker $51,760
Investigative Journalist $49,300

The psychology profession is predicted to experience 3% growth over the next several years. Other occupations, including top executives (4%), sociologists (4%), and postsecondary teachers (9%) are also expected to experience growth over the next decade.

Forensic Psychology Internship Opportunities

Completing a forensic psychology internship can be an excellent way to gain valuable hands-on experience in the field.

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Forensic psychology internship opportunities may vary depending on your specific area of specialty. Internship options may include those within the prison system, research institutions, government bodies, and clinical and legal settings.

  • Prison System Internships: You may work with inmates, correctional officers, and wardens to perform evaluations of inmates and provide support to officers in regards to their mental health.
  • Research Internships: You may work at a research institute, think tank, or firm to perform experiments or conduct research on a variety of forensic psychology topics and contribute to the breadth of knowledge available in the field.
  • Government Internships: A number of government branches or bodies, such as federal prisons or the military, may have internship opportunities in the field of forensic psychology.
  • Clinical or Medical Internships: You may provide counseling services to various populations, including victims of crime, adult offenders, young offenders, or individuals with mental health and addiction issues.
  • Legal Internships: Law firms may require forensic psychology support in the form of consultations on cases, assessments of clients’ mental fitness, or expert witness testimony during a trial.

Each type of internship may provide you with unique experiences in terms of work performed and clientele supported.

Accreditation

Forensic Psychology Accreditation

Regional accreditation is a status that verifies the overall quality of an academic program and confirms that it meets a predetermined set of quality standards.

Employers generally look more favorably upon the education received from an accredited institution. So, attending a regionally accredited forensic psychology program may benefit you when job hunting.

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Accreditation is also important if you’re interested in transferring any completed credits to another institution. You may find out if the program you’re interested in attending is accredited via the US Department of Education‘s website.

American Psychological Association (APA) Accreditation

Forensic Psychologist in a meeting

In addition to regional accreditation, on campus or online psychology degree programs can also have programmatic accreditation. The American Psychological Association is the lead accrediting agency for forensic psychology.

Licensing for forensic psychology varies from state to state, but many states require a PhD or PsyD from an APA accredited program. Attending an APA accredited program may also increase job opportunities available to you, and employers may place a higher value on your education and subsequent experience.

What Is Forensic Psychology?

Forensic Psychologist with a patient in her office

Forensic psychology is a field of study that analyzes the relationship between crime, law, the criminal justice system, and psychology.

Areas of focus in the field may include delinquency, restorative justice, and criminal investigation as well as the accuracy of eyewitness testimony and use of the insanity defense. Forensic psychology also takes interest in psychopathic behavior, mental health and addiction issues, violent criminals, sexual offenders, and victims of crime.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

When exploring what a forensic psychologist does, to best support or evaluate various forensic populations, forensic psychologists learn to understand the interrelation between the different facets of forensic psychology.

Forensic populations include offenders and individuals with severe mental health disorders. Forensic psychologists may provide support through clinical counseling or the use of evaluation and assessment methods.

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Forensic psychologists can also provide support to victims of crime, whether in childhood or adulthood. As a form of practice, this may include helping victims understand their experience, develop coping mechanisms, and find ways to move forward with life.

Forensic psychologists may also conduct research or teach topics related to the field in academic settings.

Where Do Forensic Psychologists Work?

Forensic Psychologist with a patient

As a forensic psychologist, you may have the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings throughout your career. These settings may include research centers, universities, medical centers, jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers.

You may also work within a legal office, a government building, or a court building. Depending on the type of work you’re performing, you may also provide services, such as counseling or evaluation, within a client’s home. This may be especially true when working with children.

What Is a Forensic Psychology Good For?

Forensic Psychologist with patient during group therapy

Forensic psychology aids the legal and criminal justice system. You may provide expertise in relation to an offender’s state of mind, risk of reoffending, and fitness to stand trial or participate in legal proceedings.

The field of forensic psychology also supports the criminal justice system through the courts. You may contribute expert testimony to inform the jury, attorneys, and judges in specific legal cases, whether related to criminal, civil, or family law.

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Continuous development of research and knowledge in the field also contributes to a greater understanding of the relationship between law, psychology, and the criminal mindset. This knowledge can benefit law enforcement and legal professionals as well.

What Do You Learn in Forensic Psychology?

Forensic Psychologists talking to a patient

In forensic psychology programs, you may learn about criminal justice, social-personality, crisis management, and the relationship between crime, law, and psychology. Victimology may be another area of focus during the course of your studies. Victimology deals with the psychological impact that crime can have on victims.

Pursuing an education in the field of forensic psychology may also expose you to topics such as violence and risk, young offenders, psychology in courts, police psychology, criminal profiling, and psychopathic behavior.

Is Forensic Psychology a Good Career?

Forensic Psychologist with a patient during consultation

Forensic psychology dives into the complex relationship between psychology, law, and crime. If you’re fascinated by criminal behavior and understanding why people commit criminal acts, then you may consider a career in forensic psychology.

Jobs in the life, physical, and social science field are projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow at a rate of 5% in the next 10 years.

Other positions in this field may include probation officer, social worker, correctional treatment specialist, researcher, professor, or substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor.

Additional career benefits may include the ability to work in a variety of work environments, ranging from clinical and business offices to prisons, courts, and juvenile detention centers.

Is There a High Demand for Forensic Psychologists?

Forensic Psychologist searching online

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in the field of psychology are expected to increase by 3% in the next ten years.

There are a number of qualifications that are associated with greater job opportunities. Some of these qualifiers include completing a doctoral program, having postdoctoral work experience, and having experience with conducting quantitative research.

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Clinical or counseling positions in mental health, medical, and social service settings, in particular, are expected to be in demand over the coming years.

How Much Does a Forensic Psychologist Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic psychologists earn an average of $105,780 per year. Your income levels may vary depending on your employer and the type of work you do.

For example, the average salary for psychologists who work in hospitals is $90,640 per year while the average salary for psychologists working in government positions is $100,360. As a forensic psychologist, you may also choose to pursue other career avenues.

You may be a social scientist (average salary of $87,260), postsecondary teacher in psychology ($78,180), social and community service manager ($69,600), police or detective ($67,290), probation officer or correctional treatment specialist ($55,690), or social worker ($51,760).

What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist having a consultation with a patient

In order to become a licensed forensic psychologist, you may need to meet a number of criteria, including:

  • Doctorate. A doctoral degree is required in the form of a PhD or PsyD.
  • EPPP exam. Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is another requirement for licensure.
  • Work hours. It’s necessary to complete a designated number of work hours in the field. The number of required hours varies by state.
  • Licensure. To be licensed, it’s necessary to apply in the state you’re interested in practicing.

Licensing requirements can vary from one state to the next. It can be beneficial to perform diligent research and understand the specific licensing criteria set forward by the board in your state of preferred practice.

How Hard Is It to Become a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist with a patient

In order to become a forensic psychologist, you may need to complete a variety of courses focused on different areas of forensic psychology. Courses may include the following:

  • Crime Analysis
  • Psychopathic Behavior
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • The American Criminal Justice System
  • Victim Studies
  • Advanced Research Methods
  • Forensic Mental Health
  • Police Psychology
  • Psychology in Courts
  • Violence, Risk, and Threat

For PhD programs, you may also be required to complete a dissertation in order to graduate with your degree.

What Is the Difference Between a Criminal Psychologist vs. Forensic Psychologist?

Criminal psychology focuses on criminal behavior and the criminal mindset specifically. This may include work that intends to understand why individuals decide to commit crimes and the decision-making process behind their actions.

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Forensic psychology, on the other hand, looks at crime more broadly in terms of its connection to law and psychology. Work in this area may relate to criminals but can also extend into victim advocacy, court proceedings, and eyewitnesses.

What Is the Difference Between a Forensic Psychiatrist vs. Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs). In order to become a psychiatrist, you are required to attend medical school and complete a residency and fellowship in the field.

To become a forensic psychologist, you are not required to attend medical school. Instead you may complete a PhD or PsyD program. Unlike psychologists, a forensic psychiatrist is able to diagnose mental health conditions in addition to providing treatment and prescribing medication.

Getting Your PhD in Forensic Psychology Online

Getting Your PhD in Forensic Psychology Online

A doctorate is required to become a licensed forensic psychologist, but this professional field may prove rewarding for those who have an interest in the relationship between psychology, law, and crime.

The field of forensic psychology will likely offer a number of exciting career options, a variety of work environments, growing demand, and lucrative annual salaries. If you’re interested in this career path, then earning your online forensic psychology degree, such as a PhD in Forensic Psychology online, from an accredited university may be a strategic move for you to consider.

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Brenda Pyzik
WRITTEN BY
Brenda Pyzik
Brenda has a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda focuses on employment, business, and training and development.