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How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

In recent years, forensic psychology has become a confusing subject. This has some to do with mass media and some to do with the fact that “forensics” is often associated with crime rather than, more specifically, the criminal justice system. Psychologists brought onto crime shows often manifest uncanny abilities to read criminals or perpetrators, whereas a real forensic psychologist is working with real people, using real psychological principles to achieve their goals.

The main question is not whether you would make a good TV psychic, but rather whether you would be a good candidate for using psychological knowledge and skills to help the criminal justice system. If you think that might be a good career for you, read on.

What Is Forensic Psychology?

Simply put, forensic psychology is the intersection of psychology and the law. Forensic therapy is a more specific arm of forensic psychology, which “encompasses the psychological assessment, evaluation, intervention, and treatment of individuals who have committed violent crimes or are otherwise in the legal system. Victims and families may also be involved in forensic therapy. A forensic therapist may work in a therapeutic, supervisory, or consulting capacity, depending on the client’s situation and the requirements of the legal system.”

Forensic psychology, on the other hand, involves a wider array of approaches. This may mean working with investigators to identify patterns in criminal behavior, working in schools and government agencies to create prevention programs, working with attorneys or defendants on legal cases, or working in academia to enhance the overall knowledge base of the field.

The bottom line is that forensic psychology is geared toward assessing, responding to and preventing crime. Forensic psychologists are heavily motivated to make the world a better place through these skills. In an effort to do so, they may perform a wide variety of different duties and responsibilities.

What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?

A day in the life of a forensic psychologist depends largely on where they work and what population they treat. Their duties may encompass some or all of the following:

  • Work with inmates in jails, prisons, rehab centers or hospitals (especially psych wards) to assess, diagnose and intervene in patients’ lives for the better
  • Help police departments, law firms or government agencies understand and intervene in a crime
  • Work with parents, family members or other stakeholders in creating treatment plans for inmates
  • Work with victims or their families to help them understand and move past their trauma
  • Research and examine criminal justice trends to add to the body of knowledge in this field

Where Do Forensic Psychologists Work?

So where exactly does a forensic psychologist practice? The answer is anywhere that is involved with the justice system. Many, for instance, work in jails or prisons as the on-site psychologist, or as members of a psychology team. They may have regular patients in the form of long-term inmates, as well as treating the employees of criminal institutions, which are often significant sources of referred trauma (trauma incurred by witnessing the trauma of others).

SEE ALSO: What is a PsyD in Clinical Forensic Psychology?

Some work in schools, especially schools that have a high rate of youth arrests or criminal behavior. They may meet regularly with high-risk students, work with them following arrests or incarceration in juvenile detention centers (or work in those centers themselves), and create prevention plans to reduce recidivism – or the rate at which criminals will commit crimes again.

They may also practice in a shifting variety of settings, making visits to different jails, courthouses, schools or classrooms as the need arises. Some teach at universities part-time and practice the rest of the time, or teach most of the time and lend their experience in witness testimony when necessary. This all depends on where your interest areas lie. No matter what, though, you can rest assured that the job outlook is good.

What Is the Job Outlook for Forensic Psychologists?

According to PayScale, forensic psychologists can expect to make an average of $66,610 per year, which translates to $31.31 an hour. Those in the 90th percentile, however, make more than six figures at $101,000 a year. That means if you stay in the field long enough, you can expect to make at least that much, if not more.

SEE ALSO: Salary Outlook with a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Degree

Even more positively, the rate of job growth is significant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 14 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average. Not only will you not have trouble finding a job when you finish school, but the above numbers all also refer to people who have graduated with a master’s degree. Should you opt to get a doctorate instead, your salary and job security expectations will be even higher.

How Can You Become a Forensic Psychologist?

The first step in becoming a forensic psychologist is to decide which degree to get. While many states and institution will accept a master’s, some want a doctoral degree. Check the state in which you plan to work before deciding. Also, note that a doctorate – either the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) – will enable you to teach at universities and command a significantly higher salary.

SEE ALSO: Top Online Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Degree Programs

Once you’ve decided which degree you want, you’ll need to:

  • Explore programs
  • Apply and enroll
  • Complete coursework, usually 1-2 years for masters and 3-5 for a doctorate (which requires that you earn a master’s first)
  • Take the exam for licensing

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

After you finish your program and before you can begin practicing, you will need to obtain a license. The licensing exam used by all 50 states is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). A huge benefit of this test is that no matter where you complete your schooling and where you plan to practice, the test is the same.

What is not the same, however, are the requirements of each state for licensing. States will require varying numbers of clinical hours during your program, so make sure you review the requirements of the state in which you want to practice when planning your schooling, rather than the state in which your school resides. That way, you won’t find out too late that you’re under the minimum. Also, many states require supervised clinical hours after graduating from the program, either before or after getting the license.

Do you think you might be a candidate for forensic psychology? Feel free to ask us any questions you might have or check out the programs on our site today. Don’t wait to move forward with your dream career … start now!

References

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.