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Updated December 9, 2022
Megan Pietrucha is a licensed clinical and sport psychologist in private practice. She specializes in eating concerns, body image, college student and athlete mental health, mood disorders, life transitions, stress management, and performance psychol...
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Forensic psychologists use critical thinking skills at work within the legal system. Learn more about how to become a forensic psychologist.
Credit: MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Science Photo Library / Getty Images
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If you are interested in both the law and psychology and want to contribute to the criminal justice system or the legal system, forensic psychology might be your dream career. Explore in this guide how to become a forensic psychologist, what kind of education and licensing you need, and the skills you need to succeed.
What Is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology is a newer discipline in psychology and law. It looks at how law, crime, and the justice system all interact. Forensic psychologists may specialize in field work, working with investigative teams; in legal work, acting as expert witnesses or as part of a legal team; or in research, finding ways to apply forensic psychology to prevent crime and repeat offenses.
There is an overlap with criminal psychology and the training for criminal psychology overlaps with how to become a forensic psychologist, but the two careers are different.
Forensic psychology is a popular topic for entertainment, especially crime dramas like "Mindhunter" and "Criminal Minds." But like medical dramas, television makes it seem more dramatic and glamorous than the reality.
However, it is still a fascinating career and a growing field. The number of forensic psychology programs is growing as the demand and interest grow.
|Lowest 10%||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10%||Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031)|
|$39,760||$102,900||$133,200||6% (for all psychologist jobs)|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Forensic Psychology: Example Job Titles
Forensic psychology can prepare you for many different careers in the legal and justice systems. While you must have a doctorate to become a licensed psychologist, you can apply your knowledge of forensic psychology in other careers.
Forensic psychologist Forensic clinician Forensic evaluator Special agent expert: psychology/counseling Psychologist Clinical psychologist Criminal psychologist Detective Clinical director Criminologist Forensic scientist Correctional psychologist Jury consultant Testing psychologist
Online Forensic Psychology Programs
How Do I Become a Forensic Psychologist?
To become a licensed forensic psychologist, you must earn a doctorate. This can take 7-10 years. However, you can study forensic psychology at the bachelor's or master's level and work in another field, with just 4-6 years of formal education.
Some programs offer a concentration rather than a specific degree in forensic psychology.
Education for Forensic Psychologists
You must earn a doctorate, either a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) to become a forensic psychologist. Generally, students interested in practicing as a forensic psychologist enroll in Psy.D. programs and researchers in Ph.D. programs, but you can earn a license with either degree.
Because there are relatively few degree programs for forensic psychology, doctoral programs typically admit students with any relevant psychology master's degree, with either an on-campus, a hybrid, or an online program.
Licensure for Forensic Psychologists
You do not need special licensure beyond what is required for clinical psychologists to become a forensic psychologist, which requires taking the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. (However, these requirements may vary from state to state, so check to ensure you complete all the necessary steps.)(Video) How to Become a Forensic Psychologist?
Board Certification for Forensic Psychologists
The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers a specialty board certification in forensic psychology. While this is not required by most employers, it demonstrates a strong understanding of the standards of the profession and can set you apart from competition.
To pursue this certification, you need to meet the ABPP's eligibility requirements. Then, you can take the three-hour oral examination and written exam.
PreProfessional Experience for Forensic Psychologists
The time you spend in your internship, fellowship, or supervised experience in forensic psychology following your doctoral degree is what differentiates you from general psychologists. It qualifies you for forensic psychology positions.
Individuals typically spend 1-2 years in these positions. During this time, you will gain the necessary hands-on experience to find employment in forensic psychology.
During these experiences, you can expect to administer forensic psychological assessments, violence risk assessments, evaluate a defendant's competency to stand trial, attend seminars, participate in mock trials, and conduct research, among other clinical experiences with forensic populations.
What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
Forensic psychologists may work for the government, academia, or nonprofits on reducing the likelihood of crime or repeat offenses by advising on prevention, sentencing, and rehabilitation. They regularly work as part of a team that might consist of government officials, police, schools, individual organizations and coalitions of organizations, and community representatives.
They may also work on investigative teams to help identify criminals or with attorneys as expert witnesses to explain criminal behavior and legal implications to judges and juries.
They also work within the correctional system. They might provide clinical services or interview and study criminal offenders. They may do this to help a specific offender rehabilitate. Or they may learn more about how to prevent crime and develop the best justice system responses to criminal offenders.
Skills and Competencies
The skills required to succeed as a forensic psychologist differ slightly from a clinical or counseling psychologist.
While a natural empathetic disposition leads many students to pursue careers in psychology, you must balance compassion with objectivity. This is important because your psychological assessments will be used for legal purposes, such as to prosecute offenders and determine custody agreements. These decisions lead to ramifications on people's lives.
Objectivity will also prove important in your interactions with members of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. You will likely build friendly relationships with detectives and lawyers, which can compromise your ethical standards and ability to remain unbiased.
It also helps to develop a "thick skin" at work, more so than with other branches of psychology. As a forensic psychologist, you may often interface with people who have committed violent crimes. Interacting with certain individuals and maintaining a professional disposition can be challenging.
You must also be able to defend your psychological evaluations from scrutiny in court, which can be intimidating.
Additionally, strong analytical skills and attention to detail will also help you with daily tasks like conducting clinical assessments, interviews, and report writing.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Forensic Psychologist
How many years does it take to become a forensic psychologist?
It takes 10-15 years of education and training. You must earn a bachelor's degree, then typically a master's degree, followed by a doctorate. You must also work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist before earning your license. The specific state regulations vary.
Do you need a doctoral degree to become a forensic psychologist?
People often ask how to become a forensic psychologist without a doctorate. While you must have a doctoral degree to become a licensed psychologist, you can work in the forensic psychology field without a doctorate. For example, you might work in criminal rehabilitation or in the justice or correctional systems.
What is the difference between criminology and forensic psychology?
Criminal psychology focuses more narrowly on crime and criminal behavior. Forensic psychology covers these topics, but also looks at these issues from a legal perspective. They study how law, criminal justice, and crime prevention all affect one another.
Where do forensic psychologists work?
Many forensic psychologists work in the criminal justice system, as investigators, experts, or administrators. They also work in the legal field as expert witnesses, as part of legal teams, or in government and nonprofit organizations that work to reduce crime and prevent re-offending.
Other forensic psychologists work in correctional institutions, directly with offenders.
Forensic Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations
Jobs You Can Get With A Bachelor's in Forensic Psychology
Jobs You Can Get With A Master's in Forensic Psychology
Page last reviewed November 22, 2022
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What are the steps to becoming a forensic psychologist? ›
- Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program in General or Forensic Psychology. ...
- Complete Graduate and Post-Graduate Education Leading to a PhD in Psychology or a PsyD. ...
- Complete 3000 hours of Supervised Professional Experience. ...
- Submit Application for Licensure to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.
Forensic psychologists must have a doctoral degree along with solid clinical psychology experience and training. They must also have a thorough understanding of scientific theory and research, including such topics as statistics, research design, and scientific validity.Is it hard to become a forensic psychologist for the FBI? ›
Victim specialists must hold a bachelor's degree or higher in behavioral or social sciences, such as forensic psychology. The FBI also requires three or more years of experience working with victims from different cultures within a counseling, psychology or legal environment.How difficult is forensic psychology? ›
Rewarding work. A career as a forensic psychologist is a challenging one, but it offers many intrinsic benefits. In this profession, individuals exercise compassion toward all parties while remaining objective. Achieving this balance can be difficult and requires extensive training, but the outcome is rewarding.How hard is it to become a forensic psychologist? ›
It takes 10-15 years of education and training. You must earn a bachelor's degree, then typically a master's degree, followed by a doctorate. You must also work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist before earning your license. The specific state regulations vary.What GPA do you need to be a forensic psychologist? ›
Most graduate programs in forensic psychology look for a high score on the GRE, a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and volunteer or paid experience in the field.Do forensic psychologists go to crime scenes? ›
Because the legal system and criminal motivation are both complex, forensic psychologists can be found across a wide set of activities, from analyzing crime scenes to administering treatment to incarcerated offenders.What do forensic psychologists do every day? ›
Daily tasks often involve conducting interviews, making observations, and performing research. Working at the intersection of psychology and law, forensic psychologists typically specialize in criminal, civil, or family cases, and frequently provide expert witness testimony in court.How many years do you need for forensic psychology? ›
This training process typically takes a minimum of eight years, after which forensic psychologists may opt for professional certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).What job is most like criminal minds? ›
“Of all the TV crime shows, Criminal Minds comes closest to depicting real forensic psychologists—if you take away the private jet,” said Dr. Beyer. A clinical psychologist by training, Dr.
What is the best state to live in for a forensic psychologist? ›
But working conditions and demand for forensic psychologists aren't the same everywhere in the U.S. In fact, our research shows that Delaware is the best state for forensic psychologists in America. The best city in America for forensic psychologists with the highest pay is Santa Rosa, CA.What is the fastest growing branch of forensic psychology? ›
Answer and Explanation: The fastest-growing branch of forensic psychology is considered correctional psychology.Is it worth it to study forensic psychology? ›
Is a Master's in Forensic Psychology Worth It? Yes, a master's degree in forensic psychology is worth it for many students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, life, physical, and social science jobs are set to grow at 5% over the next 10 years, faster than the average for all occupations.Is forensic easy to study? ›
Forensic Science is a multidisciplinary subject, it encompasses various fields of Science such as chemistry, biology, physics, geology, psychology, social Science, engineering, etc. Nothing is easy or difficult, what matters is hard work.Is forensic Psych competitive? ›
A relatively new subfield of psychology, forensic psychology is a dynamic, competitive, and mission-driven field related to psychology and the law.Which is better forensic psychology or clinical psychology? ›
Clinical Psychology differs from Forensic Psychology in that the general purpose of Clinical Psychology is to diagnose and treat psychological dysfunction, whereas the purpose of Forensic Psychology is to provide the psychological assessments in legal situations.Which is better criminal psychology or forensic psychology? ›
Criminal psychologists are more focused, looking only at the perpetrator and aspects of the crime itself. Forensic psychologists do not profile criminal suspects or create behavioral profiles of perpetrators. Those tasks fall to criminal psychologists.Which college has the best forensic psychology program? ›
- University of Denver. Denver, CO. ...
- CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice. New York, NY. ...
- Washington University in St Louis. Saint Louis, MO. ...
- University of North Dakota. ...
- Kean University. ...
- Florida Institute of Technology. ...
- Northcentral University. ...
- The College of Saint Rose.
A BA opens up opportunities in fields like criminal justice and social work, while a BS prepares learners for more research-based, clinical professions. Many psychology bachelor's degrees prepare students for specializations, like organizational psychology and forensic psychology.Do forensic psychologists speak in court? ›
They are crucial for assessing mental health issues in defendants, recommending appropriate therapy, and helping informants and defendants rehabilitate. They can also testify as expert witnesses about their clients' mental states in courtroom settings.
What are the 4 roles of a forensic psychologist? ›
The roles assigned to the Forensic Psychologist are the clinical role, the experimental role, the actuarial role, and the advisory role. The clinical role focuses primarily upon a scientific determination of the mental state of the offender.What are 3 duties a forensic psychologist performs? ›
On the job, forensic psychologists: Apply psychology to the criminal justice system. Assess offenders' state of mind at time of offense. Assess competency of individuals to stand trial.Do forensic psychologists have free time? ›
A forensic psychologist's workday depends on where they practice. "I work in a forensic hospital, and so I work 40 hours per week," says Kathy Ronan in Alabama. She spends extra time in court. Psychologists who run their own practices are free to work as few or as many hours as they wish.Do forensic psychologists talk to criminals? ›
In addition to profiling, criminal psychologists may counsel people who have committed crimes and need psychological assessment. Many psychologists work in computer-related fields, like studying internet predators or helping investigate online fraud.Do forensic psychologists travel a lot? ›
A forensics psychologist usually travels to correctional facilities within a county or state to both diagnose and evaluate prisoners' mental capacity to stand trial and ascertain their probability of re-offense, according to U.S. News & World Report.How many hours a week does a forensic psychologist work? ›
Forensic scientists working for the government usually work 40 hours a week but sometimes work extra to meet deadlines and work on large caseloads. Forensic scientists spend most of their time in labs but often travel to crime scenes to examine and analyze evidence, as well as testify in court.Where are forensic psychologists most needed? ›
Forensic psychologists are needed in a variety of applications in court systems, including evaluating witness testimony, selecting juries, providing consultations, and more. For example, a jury consultant would work with lawyers to provide insights on which jurors to select for cases.How many years does it take to become a forensic pathologist? ›
It takes a minimum of 13 years of education and training after high school to become a forensic pathologist.Do forensic psychologist go to medical school? ›
Remember that forensic psychologists with doctoral-level (such as PhD, PsyD, or EdD) degrees aren't required to go to medical school, but may have particular expertise in such issues as psychological testing.