Forensic psychologist salary & career outlook

forensic psychologist

Forensic psychologists get a lot of TV attention; after all, they 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 professionals who bridge law and psychology, 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

Forensic psychologists are typically licensed psychologists with a doctorate degree and forensic-specific clinical experience. Doctorate degrees with a forensic psychology specialty are available, and some of these degree programs may be completed online. Some professionals become certified 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. PayScale.com's forensic psychologist-specific salaries range from $45,000 to $83,000 based on information from 210 respondents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that other psychologists, including forensic psychologists, earned a median salary of $84,220 in 2009, with the top 10 percent earning $117,470.

The 2009 salary report from the American Psychological Association (APA) combines forensic psychologists' salaries with other psychologists' salaries, which vary by experience. The majority of survey respondents worked in group or individual private practice:

Individual practice (experience in years)

  • $70,000 (5 or less)
  • $80,000 (6-9)
  • $84,000 (10-14)
  • $81,500 (15-19)
  • $80,000 (20-24)
  • $90,000 (25-29)

Group practice (experience in years)

  • $70,000 (5 or less)
  • $72,500 (6-9)
  • $79,000 (10-14)
  • $99,000 (15-19)
  • $125,000 (20-24)
  • $114,725 (25-29)

The top places for a forensic psychology career

The top employer of "other psychologists" is the federal government. The BLS indicates that the executive branch of the federal government employs more than 5,000 "other psychologists" with an average annual salary of $85,620 in 2009. PayScale.com lists the FBI as one of the most popular employers of forensic psychologists, with a listed salary range of $35,000-$82,500.

PayScale.com data also shows the best places for forensic psychologists, which are primarily cities with a high cost of living: Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City. Other cities worth checking out with much lower costs of living include Atlanta, Georgia, Memphis, Tennessee and Detroit.

Arizona is the top-paying state for "other psychologists", with average annual earnings of $101,000. The extra pay should be enough to offset the 4 percent higher than average cost of living.

Career outlook for forensic psychologists

Overall, the BLS projects that employment for forensic psychologists and other psychologists will grow 14-19 percent between 2008 and 2018. A little more than one-third of all other psychologists are currently employed by the federal government and another one-third are self-employed. Between 2008 and 2018, the government is projected to grow these jobs by around 8 percent, or 400 total jobs.