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 Much do Forensic Psychologists Make?
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.
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.