How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

The world of forensics is a varied and dynamic field where there are many types of employment. A forensic specialist helps resolve issues and problems from the past and may work with psychology, economics, or within different scientific applications.

A forensic psychologist must consider the evidence and must then provide an educated opinion on the facts provided. Many forensic psychologists work in the legal world and may provide expert testimony in trial situations after research is complete.

Are you interested in becoming a forensic psychologist? Learn more about how to become a forensic psychologist here.

What Is a Forensic Psychologist?

A forensic psychologist is someone who uses clinical psychology practices and principles and applies them to the law. The American Psychological Association defines forensic psychology as “the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena” and it is often more broadly defined as the application of research and experimentation in areas such as social psychology and cognitive psychology to the law.

Why is forensic psychology important? Forensic psychology is highly important to the legal system because the practice of assessing individuals who get involved with the legal system is an integral component of the justice system.

One function forensic psychologists are tasked with is the assessment or diagnosis of people who are suspects in a crime. The court system relies on this assessment to make important determinations that affect lives and the outcomes of cases.

Required Skills for Forensic Psychologists

When considering how to become a forensic psychologist, keep in mind there are several skills required for forensic psychologists, and they include both hard and soft skills. The work of forensic psychologists combines the understanding of the legal system as well as the ability to accurately study and evaluate behavior and mental states. Skills required for success as a forensic psychologist include:

  • Strong communication skills, both verbal and written
  • The desire and ability to help and counsel others
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Observational skills
  • Ability to work as a team
  • Objectivity
  • Computer skills
  • Research capabilities
  • Statistical analysis capabilities
  • Time management skills
  • Social and cultural awareness
  • Ability to remain poised when under stress
  • High level of patience
  • Capable of empathy and compassion

The proper skill sets are important for a successful career in psychology, but what else is necessary to pursue this career? For example, what degree do you need to be a forensic psychologist?

Becoming a Forensic Psychologist

Becoming a forensic psychologist requires much more than a basic bachelor’s degree. Individuals who wish to work in this field must be prepared to remain in college for many years until receiving a terminal master’s degree or a doctorate. Here are the steps to take to become a forensic psychologist:

1. Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

Choose a major that is relevant, like criminal justice, psychology, or forensic psychology. This degree will take you approximately four years.

2. Apply for a Research Position or an Internship

Beyond additional education within the realm of law, internships within an area of forensic psychology are incredibly valuable due to the real-world experience needed on job applications.

Different industries where internships may be available include prisons, hospitals, and mental health facilities. In addition, a student will also want to seek out membership within the American Psychology-Law Society.

3. Complete a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology

This degree will prepare you for your doctoral program and usually takes two years. During this time, you may be required to complete hours for your final practicum by working at sites such as prisons, police departments, or courts.

4. Enroll in a Doctoral Program in Forensic Psychology

Your doctoral program will be focused on a particular area of forensic psychology and takes a minimum of four years to complete.

5. Register with the American Board of Professional Psychology

This step is optional. However, for certification purposes, you may want to register with the ABPP during your enrollment in a doctoral program.

6. Present Your Dissertation

At the end of your doctoral studies, you will present a researched dissertation.

7. Fulfill Your Required Hours of Professional Practice

You must complete the required number of hours to earn your license post-doctorate. The number of hours is determined by your state.

8. Pass the License Examination

Additionally, to earn licensure, you must pass the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP).

9. Apply for Your License

Upon completion of the required hours and a passing score on the EPPP, you can apply for your license.

10. Apply for Board Certification

Although this step is optional, you may want to apply for the American Board of Professional Psychology certification in forensic psychology.

What Can You Do with a Forensic Psychology Degree?

You have many options for what to do with a forensic psychology degree. But what jobs can you do with a forensic psychology degree? Graduates with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in forensic psychology have opportunity as a:

  • Court liaison
  • Victim advocate
  • Probation officer
  • Law enforcement officer

Once you have graduated with a master’s degree, additional career options open, such as a:

  • Licensed professional clinical counselor
  • Jury consultant
  • Research assistant
  • Juvenile offenders’ counselor

What can you do with a Ph.D. in forensic psychology? At this stage of completed education, you can be a:

  • Forensic psychologist
  • Psychology researcher
  • Expert witness
  • Psychology professor or instructor

Forensic Psychology Career Outlook

Is forensic psychology a growing field? Yes, forensic psychology is a growing, albeit exclusive field. Jobs within this forensic specialty can be found in places like law firms, insurance companies, and government departments.

While the US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track salaries for forensic psychologists specifically, they are included in the Bureau’s broader classification for Psychologists, All Other. It’s no surprise that in a career category that includes niche specialists that often contract their services independently, salaries are higher than in any other professional psychology category the Bureau tracks, with a median of $105,780.

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for Psychologists reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed October 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Psychology

How Is Forensic Psychology Different from Psychology and the Law?

Forensic psychology is different from the field of psychology and the law in that forensic psychologists mainly focus on the behavior of people involved in the criminal justice system whereas psychology and the law are concerned with the legal system itself.

Because the work of a forensic psychologist is so tightly associated with the law (civil and criminal), some students enroll in law classes during or after being awarded a degree in psychology.

Are Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology the Same?

No, criminal psychology and forensic psychology are not the same. Criminal psychology involves analyzing the conditions, thoughts and motivations associated with criminal behavior in general, looking to find strategies for preventing crime and reducing criminal proclivities in society. Forensic psychology, on the other hand, steps in to answer questions in the aftermath of a crime to evaluate the mental state of suspects, and even to work with victims and families to help them heal. Forensic psychologists may counsel at-risk youth, conduct academic research, or assess a wide range of people involved in crime, from perpetrators to victims.

What Is the Best College for Forensic Psychology?

There are only a few programs in the entire nation that cater to postdoctoral study within forensic psychology, and these programs may only accept a few students each year. Due to such exclusivity, many future forensic psychologists will choose to enter a traditional doctoral program or will enter a master’s program instead.

When entering a standard doctoral program, future forensic psychologists will want to craft a dissertation that specifically deals with forensic psychology.

Learn More About Becoming a Forensic Psychologist

Are you ready to take the first step toward achieving a fulfilling career as a forensic psychologist? Now that you better understand how to become a forensic psychologist, start exploring psychology degree programs by state to get a better sense of what you can expect in terms of psychologist salaries and more.

Embark on your journey toward this exciting and vital career today.

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