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What is a PsyD in Clinical Forensic Psychology?

Forensics is a field that interests many. Beyond the application of the subject to hit shows like NCIS or The X-Files, though, it holds a very important role within the justice system. Clinical forensic psychology applies to many arms of the system, including correctional facilities and the courtroom. Those who choose to work in the field must use their skills to inform the application of the law. It’s a big responsibility and comes with many challenges as well as fascinating career opportunities.

If you’re interested in becoming a forensic psychologist, then a PsyD or Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Forensic Psychology might be for you. Before applying, though, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into.

Accordingly, this article will discuss what exactly clinical forensic psychology is, what a professional in the field is tasked to do, and how to apply to the program and what to expect. You will also learn about the job outlook and further resources, to make your decision and application even easier.

What Is Clinical Forensic Psychology?

“Forensic psychology, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena,” says the APA. However, it clarifies that this is typically too broad a definition to be very useful or accurate. For that reason, it further clarifies the field to “the psychological assessment of individuals who are involved, in one way or another, with the legal system.”

People who want to work in this field need a solid understanding of the subject as well as a specific set of skills. “Therefore, although it is necessary to have training in law and forensic psychology,” continues the APA, “the most important skills a forensic psychologist must possess are solid clinical skills. That is, skills like clinical assessment, interviewing, report writing, strong verbal communication skills (especially if an expert witness in court) and case presentation are all very important in setting the foundation of the practice of forensic psychology.”

Although forensic psychology may apply in a wide variety of situations, it can mostly be broken down into two main categories:

  • Clinical forensic psychology, in which the psychologist engages with patients to determine their psychological fitness, their eligibility for certain programs or parole, and their mental competence to stand trial
  • Criminal proceedings, in which the psychologist assesses cases and provides the expert testimony which often helps judges and jurors make up their minds during a trial

Although a clinical forensic psychologist may take on the latter duty when it comes to cases regarding their own patients, typically someone with a PsyD would work mainly with patients rather than in the courtroom. (See “What Is a PsyD in Clinical Forensic Psychology?” for more information on this.)

What Does a Clinical Forensic Psychologist Do?

A clinical forensic psychologist’s roles depend on where they work, what the institution requires, where the inmates go after jail or prison (i.e. to trial, out on parole, etc.) and the specific needs of the population. That said, a clinical forensic psychologist may do one or all of the following tasks in any given day:

  • Competency evaluations for criminal defendants
  • Competency evaluations for the elderly
  • Counseling services to victims
  • Youth advisement
  • Death notifications
  • Child custody evaluations
  • Threat assessment for schools (i.e. is the convict a threat to neighborhoods and children?)
  • Screening, background checks and hiring of law enforcement officials
  • Advice on jury selection
  • Assessment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or other psychological conditions of their patients
  • Research study design and application
  • Assessment, data collection and analysis
  • Design and implementation of treatment programs
  • Witness courtroom testimony (in some cases)

What Is a PsyD in Clinical Forensic Psychology?

The distinction between a PhD and a PsyD is important when it comes to the duties and responsibilities of a clinical forensic psychologist. It comes down to the difference between the two degrees. While a PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is intended more for the academic setting – researching and teaching – a PsyD is geared toward work with actual patients on an ongoing basis.

Thus, if you want to be in correctional institutions helping convicts turn their lives around, the better degree for you is the PsyD. On the other hand, if it is the theory of criminal justice that appeals to you most, you may wish to apply to PhD in Psychology programs instead.

How Do You Apply to a Program?

Application to a PsyD in Clinical Forensic Psychology will take different forms depending on the requirements of the specific school. It’s important not to assume that each program has the same requirements, but rather to read through each school’s list well ahead of time so you don’t get caught unawares.

SEE ALSO: Top Online PhD in Forensic Psychology Programs

Typical requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • Transcripts for all other schools you have attended, even if you did not graduate from those programs
  • GRE scores, though you probably won’t have to retake the test if you took it in the last 5 years
  • An essay or letter of intent explaining who you are or why you would add to the program
  • Letters of recommendation from professors or bosses
  • Proof of prerequisites needed to get into the program, often graduate-level courses in psychology, which can be found on your transcripts
  • Application, which are required for all program entrance and typically found online

Speak with the admissions department of the universities to which you are applying to find out their exact requirements.

What Will You Learn in a Clinical Forensic Psychology PsyD Program?

Students in clinical forensic psychology programs must learn a wide variety of skills and knowledge in order to perform well in their post-graduate roles. Typical subject areas include:

  • Criminal behavior and analysis
  • Clinical counseling
  • Applied research
  • Clinical psychology
  • Cultural and social diversity
  • Legal procedure
  • Interventions and treatment programs
  • Teaching and education

The last subject may not be something you learn specifically. However, many people who graduate with a PsyD come out prepared to teach others just entering the field. Because the PsyD is designed for a clinical setting, of course, you will spend most of your time there. However, this degree makes it possible to take on high-level leadership roles. If that appeals, then this might be the career path for you.

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

Before you can work with patients in any setting, all states in the U.S. require that you take and pass the Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). If you have already taken this exam following a master’s program and your license is still current, then you won’t need to retake it (unless you let it lapse while in school). If, however, you haven’t taken it yet, you’ll need to schedule in time toward the end of your program for study.

Licensing requires proof that you have undergone the required number of clinical hours during your program, that you have pass the EPPP, and that you have undergone supervised practice after graduation. Only then can you practice on your own.

Is the Job Outlook for a Clinical Forensic Psychologist Good?

If you’re concerned about paying off student loans from a PsyD, don’t be. The job outlook for criminal forensic psychologists, according to the APA, is very good indeed. They conducted interviews with experts in the field and found that “Although there’s great variability in the work people do and the settings where they work, Connell estimates that forensic psychologists typically earn $200,000 to $400,000 a year. Of course, it takes a while to build up to that level. Many forensic psychologists in private practice start out part time, says Brodsky, and it can take time to establish a practice.” While it might take patience to get to this level, most would agree that’s a worthwhile salary.

The job outlook is also good. With the criminal justice system bursting and underserved, clinical forensic psychologists are bound to find the jobs they need upon graduation.

Further Resources for Candidates in Clinical Forensic Psychology

Still have questions about clinical forensic psychology? Here are a few great resources to put in your back pocket:

  • What Is Forensic Psychology?: This high-level rundown, courtesy of the American Psychological Association, is a good way to get a feel for the subject. It covers the various duties and responsibilities of a clinical forensic psychologist and distinguishes between the types of roles.
  • Glossary of Forensic Terms: Because forensic psychologists interface so closely with the criminal justice system, it’s important to know these forensic terms. Even if most of your work is with patients rather than solving crimes or witness testimony, they’re very helpful.
  • What’s It Take to Become a Forensic Psychologist?: Those who are just starting out and not sure whether or not to apply to a program should read this thorough rundown. It provides an excellent overview of the pathway to becoming a clinical forensic psychologist as well as some insider tips on how to make your career the most successful it can be.
  • How to Become a Forensic Psychologist: A day in the life of a forensic psychologist depends largely on where they work and what population they treat.
  • Salary Outlook with a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Degree: With a Ph.D. in forensic psychology, you will likely earn towards the top of the payscale for psychologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for psychologists is $79,000 per year.
  • How Much Do Forensic Psychologists Make: The forensic psychology field has received more publicity in recent years with such television shows as Criminal Minds and many others. This is part of the reason more students are considering a Ph.D. in forensic psychology.

Armed with this information, you now have what you need to make an informed decision about whether or not this career is for you, and to start applying to programs today!

NARROW YOUR PROGRAM SEARCH

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.