What is Forensic Psychology?

Many people have an interest in becoming a psychologist, but the interest in forensic psychology in the past decade has risen rapidly. This increase in interest is mainly due to crime TV programs such as Criminal Minds where criminal profilers seem to have a virtually psychic ability to provide detailed behavioral and personality profiles of alleged criminals. While this is not exactly an accurate portrayal of the life of a forensic psychologist, the widespread exposure of the profession on television is spurring interest in the field. (APA.org)

In the real world, the practice of forensic psychology involves a psychological assessment of a person who is involved in one way or another in the legal system. While it is necessary for a forensic psychologist to have training in forensic psychology and law, excellent clinical skills are by far the most vital. Skills such as clinical assessment, interviewing, report writing, and excellent verbal communication skills are needed to succeed in forensic psychology.

If you are interested in forensic psychology, you will need to earn at least a master’s and probably a doctorate in the field. Below is more information about the forensic psychology field.

What Is Forensics?

The US Department of Justice states that forensics is a vital element of the criminal justice system. A forensic scientist examines and analyzes evidence from crime scenes to come up with objective findings that can help in the investigation and prosecution of criminals, or absolve an innocent party from suspicion. (AAFS.org)

Forensics also means the application of many types of science to answer questions of interest in the criminal and legal systems. The word ‘forensic’ is derived from the Latin word forensic meaning ‘public.’ Today, it means used in or suitable to courts of judicature or to public discussion or debate. (AAFS.org)

So What Is Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychology is the intersection of the practice and study of psychology and the law. Psychologists who work in this specialty often work in prisons, jails, rehabilitation facilities, police departments, law firms, schools, or in private practice. (Psychologytoday.com)

One of the most interesting assessments that a forensic psychologist performs is in ‘mens rea’ or insanity cases. In the United States, a person cannot be found guilty for a crime if he did not have a ‘guilty mind’ at the time the alleged crime was committed. There are several psychological conditions where the law recognizes that the person is not in possession of a guilty mind.

A common standard of insanity in many states is whether the person knew what he was doing was wrong. The forensic psychologist must determine how the person’s mind was functioning a the time the crime took place. Therefore, much of the specialist’s work is retrospective; the forensic psychologist must depend on third party information, written communications, etc. to determine if the person was of sound mind.

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How Does Forensic Psychology Help The Patient?

As you would expect, a forensic psychologist works hand-in-hand with the justice system. Some of the responsibilities they have are to do screenings and assessments of prisoners. These assessments help to understand the mental health of the prisoners, which is important to understand if the prisoner was capable of committing a crime or was of sound mind when the crime was committed.

Forensic psychologists also help patients by studying and investigating psychological disorders in criminal and civil court defendants. They also examine the mental condition of criminals to find out if they are able to stand trial.

These specialists also develop relationships with clients by giving one-on-one therapy, especially when the police are involved or there has been a court order. These sessions are for study and research, but also to provide therapy to the patient. Prison life is often difficult and stressful for those who are incarcerated, and a forensic psychologist can help by providing individual or group therapy sessions. (Verywellmind.com)

How Can You Become a Forensic Psychologist?

The best way to become a forensic psychologist is to get your Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology. While you may find some positions in the field with a master’s degree, the intense competition for forensic psychology positions often necessitates earning your doctoral degree.

Some of the typical courses you will take in a forensic psychology doctoral program include: (Walden.edu)

  • The Intersection of Crime, Psychology, and the Law
  • Understanding Violence, Risk, and Threat Assessment
  • Advanced Issues in Forensic Psychology
  • Research Foundations
  • Legal Issues and Social Change in Forensic Psychology
  • Treatment of Forensic Populations
  • Psychology in the Courts
  • Police Psychology

Depending on the program you choose, you may be able to specialize in a certain area of forensic psychology, such as Crime Response, Victimology, Legal Issues, Crisis Leadership Management, and others.

What Do You Need to Apply to the Program?

Every university and psychology department has different admissions requirements, but most will require these elements:

  • College transcripts: Almost all doctoral programs require all of your past transcripts, including bachelor’s and master’s programs. If you went to several universities for your previous college work, you probably need official transcripts for all of them.
  • Letters of recommendation: Doctorate in psychology programs accept only the top candidates, so you will need several excellent letters of recommendation from earlier professors who can highlight your ability to handle difficult college coursework in psychology.
  • Prerequisites: If you have a master’s in psychology, you probably will meet most prerequisite requirements for a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology program. If you have a master’s in another field, you may need to take several prerequisites before you can apply for your Ph.D.
  • Personal essay: Excellent written communication skills are important for admission into any doctoral psychology program.
  • Application: Every university has its own application, which is probably online. Pay attention to all deadlines and provide everything they ask for, or your application could be rejected.

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

To practice as a forensic psychologist, you must take and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This test is required in all 50 states. To qualify to sit for the EPPP examination, you need to finish a doctoral program with a suitable GPA, complete one or two years of supervised work experience during the program and after graduation.

Is The Job Outlook for a Forensic Psychologist Good?

While the forensic psychology field is fairly young, it has grown rapidly in the last 20 years as there is a better understanding of the need for psychologists to offer mental health expertise in the legal system. In fact, the demand for forensic psychologists is higher than the supply as the legal system is finding more ways to put forensic psychologists to work. The higher demand for forensic psychologists is why some clinical psychologists are branching out into this subspeciality to increase their revenues. (APA.org)

Demand for all types of psychologists is growing quickly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is expected the need for clinical and counseling psychologists will rise by 14% by 2028, which is much faster than average. As the demand for clinical psychologists increases, it is expected that a similar increase will occur with forensic psychologists. (BLS.gov)

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Further Resources for Candidates in Forensic Psychology

Do you still want other resources to learn more about forensic psychology? Here are a few to help you:

  • How Much Do Forensic Psychologists Make?: This field also is defined as the application of research and experimentation to other parts of psychology, including cognitive and social, to the legal field.
  • How to Become a Forensic Psychologist: 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.
  • Law and Human Behavior: This is the official journal of the American Psychology-Law Society that is of interest to students and professionals in the forensic psychology field.
  • Forensic Psychology Dual Relationships: An article about psychotherapists serving as expert witnesses. A common role of forensic psychologists is to be expert witnesses in trials.
  • Working as a Forensic Psychologist at the FBI: An article at the American Psychological Association by a Ph.D. holder who works as a forensic psychologist at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit.

Now that you have a good understanding of what forensic psychology is and how you can help patients in the legal system, the only thing you need to do is get started!