Forensic psychologist salary & career outlook

Forensic psychologists testify in court about psychological issues that involve the law, such as a person's competency to stand trial and how mental disorders affect legal culpability. As licensed clinical psychologists who specialize in applying psychological expertise to matters of law, forensic psychologists handle more than expert testimony. They may also research, consult, assess, arbitrate and mediate to earn their paychecks.

How to become a forensic psychologist

Because there usually is so much at stake when forensic psychologists are called up regarding legal issues, many people involved in such cases have accused these professionals of being "hired guns" — in other words, offering preferred testimony in exchange for money. To overcome such accusations of poor character, proper training has been, and is increasingly, essential. As forensic psychologist Karen Franklin told Psychology Today, "Recent federal court decisions are causing increasing scientific scrutiny of psychological evidence. This in turn is leading to the development of increasingly rigorous training programs, instruments and procedures that will allow us to withstand such adversarial scrutiny."

Forensic psychologists are typically licensed psychologists with doctorate degrees — a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) — though, occasionally, a master's degree may be sufficient. They must also have completed a one-year internship and forensic-specific clinical experience. Some doctorate degrees in forensic psychology may be completed online. Some professionals become certified for the forensic specialty through the American Board of Professional Psychology, which has been providing certifications for psychology specialties since 1947.

Forensic psychologists' salaries

Forensic psychologists comprise a small group of specialized human services psychologists who are often lumped into the "other psychologists" category when it comes to salary statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reports that Other Psychologists, including forensic psychologists, earned a mean annual wage of $88,400 in May 2013, with the top 10 percent earning $117,090 or more, and the bottom 10 percent earning $42,550 or less.

Numerous factors also can influence forensic psychologists' salaries, including:

  • The cases they're involved in
  • The number of hours they work (many work part-time as consultants)
  • The amount of experience or education they possess
  • Who their employer is
The top employer of other psychologists in May 2013 was the federal government. The BLS indicates that the executive branch of the federal government employed nearly 7,000 of these professionals, with an average annual salary of $88,080 nationwide in 2013. Among federal government employers is the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

BLS data also show that, as of May 2013, the top-paying states for the "other psychologists" category are:

  • New Hampshire: $132,590 mean annual salary
  • Minnesota: $123,600 mean annual salary
  • Maryland: $104,770 mean annual salary

However, forensic psychologists' salaries may go the furthest in the top-paying metropolitan areas for this profession, both of which are in Florida: Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford. According to the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER), Florida's cost of living in the second quarter of 2014 was ranked 28th nationally, which is slightly better than Minnesota and far above than the New England states listed above, which rank among the most expensive states.

Career outlook for forensic psychologists

Overall, the BLS projects that employment for "other psychologists," which includes forensic psychologists, will grow 11 percent nationally during the 2012-2022 period. A little more than one-third of all other psychologists are currently employed by the federal government, with the rest being employed by, or self-employed as consultants for, offices of other health practitioners, colleges or other educational institutions, hospitals and physicians' offices.

Individual states are expected to see even stronger growth for these psychologists than the 11 percent national average, according to state labor department data aggregated by Projections Central. The states with the highest projected growth for the decade between 2010 and 2020 include:

  • Florida: 28.4% projected growth
  • Oregon: 24.8% projected growth
  • Utah: 24.1% projected growth
  • Arizona: 23.2% projected growth
  • Georgia: 20.3% projected growth

Prospects should be best for those who have earned doctoral or specialist degrees and have post-doctoral work experience. It's likely that the media popularity of this career will increase interest in it, and competition may be strong. Earning the highest level of training may be the best route to securing a position.

Sources:

"What's it take to become a forensic psychologist?" by Karen Franklin, Ph.D., Witness blog in Psychology Today, Oct. 27, 2010,
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/witness/201010/whats-it-take-become-forensic-psychologist-0

Cost of Living Data Series: Second Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center,
http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/

Long Term Occupational Projections for Psychologists, All Other, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Psychologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm

Occupational Employment and Wages: 19-3039 Psychologists, All Other, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193039.htm