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CAREERS

HOW TO BECOME A FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST

If you're fascinated by human behavior and want to work in the criminal justice system, consider a career as a forensic psychologist.

Broadly speaking, forensic psychology is the application of psychological principles within the workings of the justice system. Workers in this field have specialized training that allows them to assist with profiling criminals, serving as expert witnesses and researching best practices in the field. Keep reading to learn if a forensic psychologist career may be right for you.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

The duties of individual forensic psychologists can vary, but here are some general responsibilities that are a part of many forensic psychologist careers:

  • Analyzing crime scene information to put together a composite personality sketch of a potential suspect
  • Conducting psychological evaluations of defendants
  • Testifying in court as an expert witness
  • Preparing reports to be used in legal cases
  • Researching ways to improve methodology and best practices used by forensic psychologists

How Long Does it Take to Become a Forensic Psychologist?

This is a highly specialized field, and you should be prepared to spend significant time in school preparing for this career. It can take up to 10 years or more to earn the doctorate needed to be licensed as a psychologist. That time includes four years for a bachelor's degree and two years for a master's degree in addition to your doctoral studies. While that may sound daunting, accelerated and online degree programs can make achieving this level of education more manageable.

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Because so much can be at stake based on a forensic psychologist's findings, rigorous educational and professional standards must be met to work in this field. Here's a look at the usual path taken by those working in forensic psychologist careers.

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree: Forensic psychologists may earn their undergraduate degree in psychology, forensic psychology or another related major.
  2. Earn a master's degree: For those who don't want to continue their education beyond the master's level, a master's degree in forensic psychology can be the basis for careers in counseling or victim advocacy.
  3. Earn a doctoral degree: A Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology credential is required to work independently in all states.
  4. Become licensed: In most states, people must be licensed to call themselves a psychologist. Licensure requirements may include an internship, one or two years of supervised practice and passage of a certification exam.
  5. Apply for board certification: Becoming board certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology indicates you meet established standards for the profession. The certification process includes a review of credentials and practice samples and a three-hour oral examination.
  6. Take continuing education classes: To maintain licensure and certification, forensic psychologists may need to take professional development courses.

Essential Skills, Qualities and Abilities for Forensic Psychologists

While having the proper education is essential to working as a forensic psychologist, you'll need more than book smarts to be successful in this field. The following traits and skills are also important.

  • Active listening: Forensic psychologists need to be able to listen closely and ask appropriate questions when interviewing people.
  • Social perceptiveness: Understanding how and why people react in certain situations is critical to this line of work.
  • Critical thinking: Being able to analyze crime data requires excellent critical thinking skills.
  • Problem sensitivity: Forensic psychologists should be able to anticipate when problems might occur.
  • Oral expression: As an expert witness, a forensic psychologist needs to be able to clearly communicate information verbally.

Forensic Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook

Forensic psychologists comprise a small group of specialized human services psychologists who are often lumped into the "other psychologists" category when it comes to government salary statistics. The following chart shows national job growth, income and employment numbers for this group of professionals.

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean WageProjected Job Growth Rate
Psychologists, All Other14,220$98,23011.6%
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

As with all occupations, a forensic psychologist salary is likely to be influenced by location as well as the industry in which you work.

Where Do Forensic Psychologists Work?

Many psychologists are self-employed and have their own practice. They may provide services to clients on a consultant basis. Forensic psychologists may also be employed in the following settings:

  • Government
  • Legal firms
  • Correctional facilities
  • Military
  • Colleges and universities

The federal government is a top employer of specialized psychologists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Healthcare practices, including psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, may employ these professionals as well.

Professional Associations for Forensic Psychologists

Learn more about how to become a forensic psychologist and the job aspects of forensic psychologist careers by visiting the websites for these professional groups.

American Academy of Forensic Psychology

International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology

American Psychological Association

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Article Sources
  • 8 career paths with a master's degree in forensic psychology, April 17, 2017, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Accessed May 2020, https://www.thechicagoschool.edu/insight/career-development/career-options-masters-degree-forensic-psychology/
  • About, American Board of Forensic Psychology, Accessed May 2020, https://abfp.com/about/
  • Clinical Psychologist, O*Net Online, Accessed May 2020, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3031.02
  • Postgrad growth area: Forensic psychology, American Psychological Association, Accessed May 2020, https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2009/11/postgrad
  • Psychologists, All Other, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed May 2020, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193039.htm
  • The Path to Becoming a Psychologist, February 20, 2019, Capella University, Accessed May 2020, https://www.capella.edu/blogs/cublog/how-long-does-it-take-to-become-a-psychologist/
  • What is forensic psychology? American Psychological Association, Accessed May 2020, https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2013/09/forensic-psychology