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Forensic Psychologist: Education and Career Information

If you like the notion of working for the law in some capacity and like the mental aspects of solving crimes, a career as a forensic psychologist may be waiting for you. This is not a common career path, but is very interesting and has become more popular as crime shows have forensic psychologists helping to solve complex crimes. This position does more than just solve crimes, and is extremely beneficial to both the legal and law enforcement profession.

What does a forensic psychologist do?

Forensic psychology entails a number of areas where a mental perspective is needed to assist in investigations and assessments. Forensic psychologists can serve as expert witnesses, evaluate mental competency of offenders, perform child custody evaluations, conduct visitation risk assessments, and conduct research to help solve crimes. Depending on where the position is located, the job can be very stressful and demanding. You will find forensic psychologists working in probation services, private hospitals, police departments, social services and in institutions of higher learning.

Forensic psychologists provide research-based evidence to develop policies, works in determining criminal profiles, provide information for parole boards and mental health tribunals and assist in the rehabilitation of incarcerated offenders. This position helps to train staff, works with victims of certain crimes and the general public on their fears surrounding certain crimes, completes one-to-one assessments on offenders to determine their risk for re-offending, and provides an overall foundation for the legal and law enforcement systems to operate and utilize effective policies when dealing with offenders.

How much does a forensic psychologist earn?

The salary scale for forensic psychologists vary depending on where they are employed, the locale, experience and education level. An entry level position for someone with a master’s degree earn around $40,000 and are not considered a full forensic psychologist. Those who hold a doctorate degree can make around $75,000 annually, which was the median average salary in 2013 according to Indeed.com. Payscale.com projects this annual salary to be around $62,000 on average, with a high-end salary of $124,000.

What types of skills does a forensic psychologist need?

A forensic psychologist must have specialized skills to succeed in this position. They must have:

Scientific proficiency: This profession is based on science. These individuals must be able to provide statistical formulas and analysis to correctly match evidence to certain theories on why people do what they do, how they think and their possible next move. Through rigorous scientific training, forensic psychologists learn how to assess and evaluate the mind.

Legal Background Knowledge: Forensic psychologists must have legal knowledge to be successful, as they assist law enforcement and officials in solving crimes. Having educational training in law is very useful, as well as knowing and understanding courtroom procedures to make an impact.

Research skills: A forensic psychologist must be able to conduct thorough research to obtain information and prior histories on the evolution of certain crimes. Research conducted can assist in building criminal profiles, or in assessing the mental state of the victim or offender.

Communication skills: Individuals in this position help attorneys and law enforcement professionals solve crimes or assess certain behaviors. They must be able to explain links to evidence and how psychology plays a role in how and why the crime was committed. A forensic psychologist works with court and law enforcement officials, and attorneys and investigators to help build criminal profiles. They must be able to speak clearly and effectively in the court of law or in front of groups of people.

Analysis skills: A forensic psychologist must be able to analyze lots of data and information to extract what they need to assist law enforcement or the department in which they work. Their analysis skills must be sharp and astute to be able to see and process information that would not ordinarily be thought of by normal law enforcement officials.

Critical Thinking Skills: Being able to put yourself in the shoes of a criminal and their thoughts takes a high level of critical thinking skills. This is a skill that is essential to the success of anyone in this position.

Individuals in this position also need a high level of patience, commitment and creativity to get the job done.

Internship Requirements

There is a clinical internship component in order to obtain the doctoral degree, which varies based on the program. Two years of professional experience is also needed to be able to sit for the specialization in forensic psychology.

Education Requirements

There is a lengthy educational component associated with becoming a forensic psychologist. The first step in becoming a forensic psychologist is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related area. Once that degree has been obtained, acquiring a master’s degree in forensic psychology, and then a doctoral degree in clinical or counseling psychology is needed to earn the Ph.D. or Psy.D. All educational programs must be obtained through accredited institutions.

Coursework in these areas include abnormal psychology, forensics, and the psychology of deviants. Individuals should also have an extensive background of law and the legal profession to fully understand the intricacies of this area.

Doctoral programs in this field are very competitive, and it takes about 5 to 7 years of graduate school to become prepared to sit for the licensing Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Once candidates have obtained board certification, they can sit for another exam to become certified as Diplomat of Forensic Psychology by the American Board of Forensic Psychology.

This can be a very interesting career path that is diverse, challenging and rewarding. This can be a highly stressful area, but if you thrive off excitement and getting to the bottom of intimate details, a career as a forensic psychologist may benefit you.

Psychology Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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