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Forensic psychology schools

Which types of jobs are available for those interested in forensic psychology?

Forensic psychologists are psychologists who are employed by the courts or legal professionals to render expert opinions, recommendations, diagnoses and testimony. The Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology recognizes 13 different practice areas; depending on which of these specialties a psychologist is trained in, he or she will be called on to provide different services as a forensic psychologist. For example, a child psychologist might be engaged by family court to assess a child's mental state after an allegation of abuse, while a social psychologist might offer an opinion as to the effects of pretrial publicity on the community of potential jurors.

The day-to-day routine of forensic psychologists is determined by what their speciality is and where they work. For example, some forensic psychologists are employed by prisons, where they consult on matters related to inmates' mental states, such as competency to stand trial. Forensic psychologists might have a private clinical practice and be called in as needed by local attorneys. In this case, their workload is dependent on the court's schedule, with periods of high intensity before deadlines or hearings. Others do forensic psychology research at institutions including universities and government organizations. Still others work for law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI.

Psychologists are attracted to forensic psychology careers for the intellectual stimulation and because it is a way of earning income that is not dependent on patients' insurance providers. But the work poses some challenges. Ethical issues can come up; for example, if a forensic psychologist becomes friendly with the attorneys who hire him or her, it can be hard to maintain impartiality. Testifying in court can be emotionally distressing, as can working closely with criminals or their victims.

Formal training required to work in a career related to forensic psychology

Most forensic psychologists have a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). There are some graduate programs offering joint degrees in psychology and law, which are excellent forensic psychology degrees. In these programs, you might take interdisciplinary courses, such as behavioral science and the law or research in law and psychology. You can also earn a degree in some other branch of psychology, such as clinical psychology, and then move into forensic psychology through internships or other post-doctoral programs. It typically takes five years of graduate school to earn a doctorate.

The typical career path of someone interested in forensic psychology

Forensic psychology jobs have been classified by the US Department of Labor's Occupational Information Network as investigative/social/artistic. This means forensic psychology careers are good for people who like to work with ideas, interact with a variety of people, and who are good at seeing designs and patterns and expressing themselves.

It can take a while for psychologists to establish their careers as forensic specialists. An article in the American Psychological Association's (APA) GradPSYCH Magazine points out that many psychologists start out in private practice and do forensic work on the side. The volume of their forensic work increases as they establish relationships with attorneys. Official licensure as a forensic psychologist by the American Board of Professional Psychology is contingent on having a doctoral degree, 1000 hours of professional experience and passing scores on oral and written exams.

Job outlook and salary information for those interested in forensic psychology

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts average 2008-2018 job growth of 12 percent for psychologists in general, but demand for forensic psychologists is likely to be higher. GradPSYCH Magazine identifies forensic psychology as a "postgrad growth area," and quotes Ira K. Packer, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who says that, "demand for forensic psychologists is outstripping the supply." Ever since it was recognized by the APA as a specialty in 2001, more and more people have been pursuing degrees in forensic psychology. APA surveys indicate that in 2007-2008 there were 538 applications to Ph.D.-track forensic psychology degree programs, and by 2009-2010 that had more than doubled, to 1,212 applications.

Forensic psychologists have excellent earning potential. According to the APA, the 2007 median starting salary for forensic psychologists was $60,000. The BLS reports that clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned a mean 2009 annual wage of $72,310. And GradPSYCH Magazine cites Mary Connell, a practicing forensic psychologist, who estimates that established forensic psychologists earn between $200,000 and $400,000 a year.

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