This article contains answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the field of forensic psychology, forensic psychology graduate programs, and careers in forensic psychology.
Forensic psychologists work with members of the law enforcement community and the court system in a variety of capacities. Some may train police officers and other law enforcement personnel on how to better communicate with the population they serve, others might provide counseling services to law enforcement personnel who have experienced trauma or stress related to their occupation. However, one of the most common career paths for forensic psychologists is working as a consultant, providing expert testimony in court cases and legal proceedings.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics psychologists, other than clinical and counseling psychologists and industrial psychologists, earn a median salary of $90,020. Specific earnings information on forensic psychology is not available; this is likely due to the fact that many forensic psychologist work as consultants and their fees for service may vary greatly depending on the frequency of work and their level of expertise[i].
Forensic psychologists are generally required to earn a Ph.D. in psychology with a specialization in forensic psychology. Specialization in forensic psychology may require the individual to acquire expert knowledge in the fields of psychology, criminology, law, and forensics. This concentration may require students to participate in supplemental coursework or a research project examining a topic specific to the study of forensic psychology. The American Board of Forensic Psychology (APFB) issues qualified practitioners a Diplomate of Forensic Psychology[ii]. According to the APFB, “The Diploma awarded by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) is the only post-doctoral specialty certification recognized in the American Psychological Association Directory… The ABPP has rigorous standards for the credentials, work review and oral examination of applicants for three hours by a panel of three psychologists who hold the Forensic Diplomate.” APFB credentialing may be especially important for individuals interested in pursuing a career providing expert testimony. View additional forensic psychology resources.
Forensic psychologists have special knowledge of the criminal justice system and forensics; they differ from other psychology specializations because they work almost exclusively with populations and subject matter related to the legal system.
Most individuals interested in practicing forensic psychology may need to earn a Ph.D. and meet specific APFB licensure requirements in order to serve as an expert witness in a legal case. However; there may be career opportunities for individuals with a master’s degree in forensic psychology to provide other services within the legal system, but it is unlikely that these individuals will be qualified to provide expert testimony.
Some online forensic psychology graduate programs exist, but they are generally rare. There are more online masters programs in forensic psychology than there are Ph.D. programs in forensic psychology.
Students of forensic psychology take a variety of courses in the social sciences, criminology, law, and psychology. Most programs also require students to take research and statistics courses. Most Ph.D. programs may require candidates to complete original research and a dissertation.
Forensic psychology graduate programs may accept students from a variety of backgrounds. To prepare yourself for a future in a forensic psychology graduate program you may want to take courses in research methods, statistics, psychology, the social sciences and criminology.
If you think you may be interested in a career as a forensic psychologist, take some time to meet with professionals in the field. You might want to speak with professors who teach courses in forensic psychology or network with current graduate students to find out what it is really like to work in the field. You can also join social media communities on Facebook or LinkedIn to connect with practicing forensic psychologists. Do your research into the realities of the profession and try to avoid relying on television or movie depictions as they may sometimes be misleading.
Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5 [ii] abfp.com/brochure.asp