Studying Forensic Psychology

I'm interested in studying forensic psychology. What can you tell me?

Forensic psychology is a specialization of psychology that addresses legal issues. A forensic psychologist consults with people who are associated with all levels of the legal system, from attorneys and judges to defendants in civil cases and suspected criminals. A forensic psychology program teaches students how to apply the principles of clinical psychology to the civil and criminal justice systems. However, forensic psychologists are not law enforcement officers, so students in a forensic psychology program will not be qualified to arrest criminals. Instead, they will learn to use their knowledge of psychology and criminal justice to counsel legal experts. If you are interested in forensic psychology, you will need to become a licensed psychologist and receive specialized forensic training. You cannot practice forensic psychology until you earn a doctorate, so you will need to prepare yourself for many years of schooling if you are interested in this career.  

Let's hear from other perspectives

An Interview with Kelly McCardic

Kelly McCardic

Graduate, Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology,Argosy University

“In order to be a successful forensic psychology student, you must be resilient.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Jessica Boyle

Jessica Boyle

Student, PhD in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Psychology and Law,University of Alabama

“For me, it was a wonderful decision to complete my masters degree before entering a PhD program in psychology.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Jason Doll

Jason Doll

Professor of Forensic Psychology,Marymount University

“The field of forensic psychology requires the abilities to think critically and to adapt to a certain degree of ambiguity.”Read the Full Interview

Forensic Psychologist Overview

Forensic Psychologist,David DixonWatch His Story
video

What exactly is a forensic psychologist?

Forensic psychologists are psychologists who consult with professionals in the legal and criminal justice system. A forensic psychologist might perform a range of job duties within civil and criminal courts. For example, in the civil court system, they often advise attorneys about child custody cases and assess whether parents are fit to raise their children. In the criminal court system, forensic psychologists evaluate whether suspected criminals are mentally fit to testify or if a plea of insanity is valid. They also give expert testimony in court about topics that are related to psychology. Finally, forensic psychologists can work within the corrections field to counsel inmates or offenders who are on probation or parole.

Let's hear from other perspectives

An Interview with H.D. Kirkpatrick

H.D. Kirkpatrick

Forensic Psychologist,Private Practice

“I would tell a student who is interested in forensic psychology that they need to be mentally and emotionally strong. Enduring cross examination on the witness stand requires a certain keenness of intellect, backbone and strength.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if forensic psychology would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a forensic psychologist. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I like to solve problems and puzzles.

Forensic psychologists advise clients, attorneys, judges and public and private organizations (including law enforcement agencies) on complex psychological, personal and legal problems that can be tough to understand. If you are frustrated by complicated problems that don’t have easy solutions, you may have a hard time working as a forensic psychologist.

I am observant.

Forensic psychologists must be able to spot patterns in unusual behavior and mental processes that indicate aspects of a person’s character. You must be sensitive to details like body language and tone of voice to excel as a psychologist.

I am a good listener.

Forensic psychologists must actively listen to individuals and groups, including divorcing couples, victims traumatized by workplace or sexual harassment, asylum applicants, defendants and suspected criminals in civil and criminal cases, attorneys, judges, and welfare agencies in order to determine whether they are mentally fit. If you dislike listening to others, forensic psychology is not a good career choice for you.

I enjoy interacting with people.

Forensic psychologists advise people who are involved in the legal system, including law enforcement officials, judges and criminal offenders. You must be able to communicate with many different kinds of people in order to succeed in forensic psychology.

I handle pressure well.

Forensic psychologists face stressful and emotional situations when they deal with criminals and clients. If you decide to pursue a career in forensic psychology, you will need healthy ways to cope with your stress so that it does not negatively affect you.

I know how to keep a secret.

Forensic psychologists have access to information that must be kept confidential. You will be legally and ethically required to keep things to yourself in this career.

I communicate clearly and effectively.

Because forensic psychologists are frequently asked to testify in court, they need to be able to explain their expert opinions to the judge and jury. You must be comfortable with written and verbal communication to succeed in this job.

I make decisions based on facts instead of emotion.

Forensic psychologists work on emotionally charged cases like child custody hearings and criminal trials. You will have to set your feelings aside to make rational and fair decisions when you evaluate clients or defendants.

I am comfortable making difficult decisions.

The decisions that forensic psychologists make can have drastic effects on other people. As a forensic psychologist, you will need to recognize the importance of your choices and conclusions.

I am willing to be a lifelong learner.

Forensic psychology is an emerging field, so psychologists in this specialty must be willing to educate themselves on new ideas in the subject. You need to recognize the value of continued training to stay current in this field.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful forensic psychologist.

By my assessment, a career as a forensic psychologist is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career as a forensic psychologist may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career as a forensic psychologist. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider when deciding if forensic psychology is the right choice for me?

Education Requirements

If you want to become a forensic psychologist, you need to prepare yourself for many years of schooling. An undergraduate degree alone will not qualify you to work in this field. You must earn a doctorate and obtain a license in order to practice forensic psychology, so if you do not plan to attend graduate school, forensic psychology is not the right career choice for you.

Forensic Psychology Professions

What forensic psychology professions can I choose from?

As a specialization within the field of psychology, forensic psychology is the only major profession that you can enter in this subject area.

Education Required: If you want to become a forensic psychologist, you will need to earn a doctorate, which usually requires students to complete 4 to 7 years of graduate school. Some schools require you to hold a masters degree in order to be accepted into a doctoral program, but other schools will admit exceptional students who only have a bachelors degree.

Average Salary: The average salary for a forensic psychologist is $83,900, which means forensic psychologists earn a typical salary compared to people in other areas of psychology. The lowest 10% of all psychologists earn less than $37,900 per year and the highest 10% earn more than $106,800.

Work Environment: Forensic psychologists work within the criminal justice system, which means that their typical working environments include government agencies, correctional facilities, private practice and psychiatric hospitals. However, some forensic psychologists will focus more on research than on clinical practice. These forensic psychologists are likely to work at colleges or universities.

Job Description: Forensic psychologists use psychology to work with people involved in all aspects of the criminal justice and civil court systems. Although each job is different, some of their duties might include evaluating criminal suspects to see if they show evidence of mental illness or assessing how likely a convicted criminal is to commit another crime. They may work at a jail or prison to counsel inmates who struggle with mental health illnesses and psychological problems and create treatment plans to help them recover. Alternately, some forensic psychologists work in civil cases like child custody disputes to determine the best place for a child’s welfare. They also may be asked to testify in court about psychological topics. Finally, some forensic psychologists choose to conduct academic research rather than counsel people.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for positions in forensic psychology?

Few statistics are available about the job outlook of forensic psychologists because they work in such a specialized field. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008, there were approximately 15,900 psychologists working in specialized areas of the field. Employment of specialized psychologists is expected to increase by about 14% through 2018, which is faster than the average 12% growth rate for all jobs. Job prospects are best for psychologists who have earned a doctoral degree from a leading university.
Profession Employment 2010 Projected 2020 Average Growth
Psychologist 17500 20600 18%
Clinical Psychologist 154300 188000 22%
Forensic Science Technician 13000 15400 19%

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Psychologist 80360 83610 90460 84220 86510 85830
Clinical Psychologist 66110 68150 70190 72310 72540 73090
Forensic Science Technician 48130 50310 52960 55070 55040 55660

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
Psychologist $42240 $63790 $90010 $104940 $116870
Clinical Psychologist $39060 $50820 $67880 $88030 $110410
Forensic Science Technician $32760 $40790 $52180 $67160 $84980

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a forensic psychologist?

It usually takes people 8 to 10 years to become a licensed forensic psychologist. In order to practice in this field, you have to earn a doctorate, which requires at least 4 years of graduate education on top of a bachelors degree. During the last year of your doctoral program, you will begin a supervised internship that usually lasts for 2 years. Once you have earned your doctorate, you will complete the last year of your work experience. You are eligible to apply for the psychology licensing examination after your supervised work experience is completed.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while pursuing forensic psychology?

As a forensic psychology student, you can expect to grow in both knowledge and skills.

KNOWLEDGE

Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology studies unusual thinking patterns and ways of acting that result in behavioral or mental health disorders. Many disorders that are associated with abnormal psychology are treatable with a combination of counseling therapy techniques and medication. Some examples of disorders include social anxiety disorder, sexual deviation and substance abuse.

Human Development – Adult & Child

Human development refers to the changes that people experience as they mature emotionally, physically and intellectually. Human development theories present timelines that illustrate how people ordinarily develop social, mental and motor skills at different phases of growth. It discusses what level of development is considered normal at different points in a person’s childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Personality Psychology

Personality psychology examines the thoughts, feelings and patterns of behavior that make each person unique. Some topics that are covered include emotional intelligence, motivation and the difference between people who are extroverted and people who are introverted. It also discusses personality disorders and the possible effect of genetics on personality.

Victimology

Victimology explores the mental and emotional effects that victims of crime experience. It examines the relationships between victims and criminal offenders as well as the interaction between victims and groups like the media and law enforcement. It also studies the way that criminals choose people to victimize.

Psychology Ethics & Law

Psychology ethics are the moral guidelines developed by the American Psychology Association and other professional organization that psychologists use to make professional and legal decisions. Ethical discussions in psychology include topics like professional roles and respective responsibilities; boundaries; client confidentiality; the ethical decision-making process; research guidelines; and knowledge of essential legal decisions and cases applicable to forensic practice. Legal considerations include professional liability, professional rules of conduct and the role of the psychologist in various legal settings, including the courtroom.

SKILLS

Problem Solving

Forensic psychologists try to understand the mental processes that lead clients or suspected criminals to behave in unusual ways. Your psychology curriculum will teach you how to identify and treat mental health and behavioral issues in your clients. You will learn which therapy techniques are most appropriate for particular groups of people and situations.

Therapy Techniques

During your forensic psychology training, you will practice different therapy techniques that you can use to treat your clients. You will learn to effectively evaluate and counsel people with a range of mental disorders. Your counseling program will also teach you ways to communicate with specific groups of people like juvenile offenders, dangerous criminals and those with severe mental disorders.

Psychological Assessment & Testing

Psychological assessment and testing teaches the principles, strengths and weakness of different assessment instruments and how to choose the most appropriate method of assessment. By reviewing case studies and gaining hands-on experience in administering, scoring, and interpreting the test results. You will also gain experience in writing different types of forensic reports of findings. You will learn that that assessment involves your professional interpretation of the test results and how to present your findings.

Research Methods

As you study forensic psychology, you will be trained in scientific research methods like experimenting, surveying and observing. You will learn to design original research plans that are respected by your peers by gathering information from diverse and reliable sources. You will also learn to interpret the research of others and to apply that information to your own insights to produce new ideas in forensic psychology.

Interpersonal Communication

A degree in forensic psychology will teach you to communicate with and relate to your clients. You will also be trained to listen actively to your clients so that you can evaluate their state of mind and recommend the best treatment possible. In addition, you will learn to communicate with people in related professions like mental health counselors, social workers and law enforcement officials.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of forensic psychology?

You can earn forensic psychology credentials at the bachelors, masters and doctorate levels. However, an undergraduate degree in forensic psychology will not qualify you to work as a psychologist. You can only use a bachelors degree in forensic psychology as a stepping stone to higher-level degrees.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s
  • Doctorate

Bachelors Degree

Bachelors degree programs in forensic psychology are unusual, and you should keep in mind that these programs will not qualify you for a job in the field. Some schools do offer bachelors degree programs in general psychology with a specialization in forensic psychology. No matter what educational path you choose, a bachelors degree is not particularly useful if you want to go into forensic psychology.

What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in forensic psychology?

Bachelor of Arts BA

A BA degree has a liberal arts education course focus. Although you will study forensic psychology, you will also have an opportunity to explore other disciplines. A BA is a good choice for students who are not interested in pursuing forensic psychology research at the graduate level.

Bachelor of Science BS

A BS degree in forensic psychology offers more classes in mathematics and the sciences. You will spend time learning research methods and applied psychology. This option is best for students who want to pursue a graduate-level education that leads to a career in forensic psychology.

How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in forensic psychology?

Students are usually required to complete 120 to 128 credit hours to earn a bachelors degree in forensic psychology, which takes about 4 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in forensic psychology?

To earn a bachelors degree in forensic psychology, you will take a number of classes in psychology, child development and criminal justice. You are likely to take courses like abnormal psychology, developmental psychology and sociology as well as criminal law. You will also take classes in research methods and statistics.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in forensic psychology?

If you choose to earn a degree in forensic psychology, you will find that your job options in the field are extremely limited. You will not be able to work as a forensic psychologist, but you may be qualified for jobs in related fields like criminal justice. Some of the jobs that you may be qualified for include correctional officer, probation officer and child welfare or protective services representative, but you can also enter those fields without a bachelors degree in forensic psychology.

What about getting an online bachelors degree in forensic psychology?

If you plan to join the workforce immediately after completing your bachelors degree, then pursuing an online forensic psychology degree may be acceptable. Bachelors degree programs are not research intensive, so there are no drawbacks to pursuing an online forensic psychology bachelors degree program.

On the other hand, if you plan to enter graduate school after your bachelors degree, an online forensic psychology degree is not a good idea. Students who apply to graduate programs in any area of psychology face intense competition, and the best applicants have solid research skills and experience with applied psychology. If you want to go to graduate school in forensic psychology, you should only pursue a bachelors degree in forensic psychology online if the program includes an internship component so that you can develop hands-on skills.

Masters Degree

A masters degree is not always required to obtain a doctorate in forensic psychology, but many students choose to earn masters degrees in forensic psychology or closely related fields like clinical, counseling or school psychology, criminology or criminal justice.

What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in forensic psychology?

Master of Arts MA

An MA in forensic psychology emphasizes research methods, criminal justice and the psychology of crime. This degree prepares students for doctorate study.

Master of Science MS

An MS in forensic psychology technically focuses more on scientific research methods, but there is not much difference between this degree and the MA. This program also prepares students to study at the doctorate level.

How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree in forensic psychology?

A masters degree in forensic psychology usually requires students to complete 36 to 84 credits, depending on the length of the program and whether it requires an internship. Students typically complete masters degree programs in forensic psychology in 2 to 3 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree in forensic psychology?

If you choose to pursue a masters degree in forensic psychology, you will take classes that teach you how psychology relates to the legal system. Exact courses will vary by program, but you will probably take classes like human development, personality psychology, counseling techniques, psychological assessments and evaluations, ethical principles and guidelines and psychology law and ethics. You will also take classes that prepare you to conduct academic research like statistical analysis and research methodology. Some programs require you to write a thesis as well.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree in forensic psychology?

A masters degree in forensic psychology does not qualify you to be a licensed forensic psychologist but it will allow you to work in other areas of psychology that do not require a license. You may work in the office of a private forensic psychology practice under the supervision of a licensed forensic psychologist. You may also be able to work as a mental health counselor, case manager or correctional officer. However, you do not need a degree in the specific field of forensic psychology to work in any of these positions.

What are the requirements for admission to a masters degree program in forensic psychology?

Many schools prefer that applicants to a forensic psychology masters program hold a bachelors degree in forensic psychology, psychology or criminal justice.

What about getting an online masters degree in forensic psychology?

If your goal is to eventually attend graduate school so that you can become a forensic psychologist, an online forensic psychology masters degree may not be a good choice. You should not pursue an online forensic psychology masters degree unless it includes an internship, which is typically a full-time placement for a defined period of time in a forensic setting. Most forensic psychologists work directly with clients, and an online forensic psychology program will not allow you to develop the clinical skills that you need. In addition, doctorate programs in forensic psychology are extremely competitive, and a degree from an online forensic psychology masters degree program may hurt your application.

Doctorate

If you want to practice forensic psychology, you must earn a doctorate and become a licensed psychologist. At the doctorate level, you can study forensic psychology or you can study general, clinical, counseling, educational or school psychology and specialize in forensic psychology. Whether you decide to study forensic psychology on its own or to specialize in it while you study psychology in general, you can choose to earn a PhD or a PsyD. Both options will prepare you to begin a career as a forensic psychologist.

What are the different types of doctoral degrees that I can earn in forensic psychology?

Doctor of Philosophy PhD

A PhD is designed to prepare students to conduct scholarly research. This option is best for people who plan to practice forensic psychology and teach or conduct research in the field.

Doctor of Psychology PsyD

A PsyD program is designed to prepare students for clinical psychology practice. It will focus less on research methods and more on developing practical skills in clinical psychology. The PsyD option is best for people who want to open a private psychology practice.

How long will I have to study to earn my doctorate in forensic psychology?

Students need to complete 90 to 120 credit hours to earn a doctorate in forensic psychology or psychology with a forensic psychology concentration. Most PhD and PsyD programs take 4 to 7 years of study.

For most PhD programs in forensic psychology, students complete 2 years of work experience in the form of an internship. The first year is often completed while students are finishing their doctorates, and the second year is completed after the degree has been earned. One year of work experience is roughly equivalent to 1,750 hours.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my doctorate in forensic psychology?

While you study for your doctorate in forensic psychology, you will take classes that help you develop your clinical and research skills. Your courses are likely to include advanced courses in human development, professional ethics, psychotherapy, roles and responsibilities, psychological assessment, treatment planning and psychopathology, which is the scientific study of mental disorders. Some of your courses will focus on criminal justice issues like victimology and juvenile delinquency. You will also take classes in research design and statistics, which will help you to write your dissertation. Finally, you will participate in practicums that allow you to put the psychological theories that you learn into practice.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a doctorate in forensic psychology?

A doctorate in forensic psychology allows you to practice psychology, teach or conduct academic research in the field.

What should I consider when deciding on a program to earn my doctorate in forensic psychology?

If you plan to work as a forensic psychologist, you should make sure that the program you choose is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA bestows accreditation on psychology programs that meet the professional training standards for the field. Many states require that students have a doctorate from an APA-accredited program in order to become licensed as psychologists.

In addition, you should make sure that your program provides clinical psychology experience through internships or practicums. If your doctorate program is APA-approved, it will have internship and practicum programs. You need to be comfortable working in a variety of settings with diverse groups of people in order to be a skilled forensic psychologist.

What are the requirements for admission to a doctorate program in forensic psychology?

Doctoral programs in psychology are competitive, but a masters degree is not always necessary to be admitted into a doctoral program in forensic psychology. Some programs accept students who only have a bachelors degree if they have a background in psychology, statistics and criminal justice.

What about getting an online doctorate in forensic psychology?

You should not pursue an online forensic psychology doctorate if you plan to become a licensed psychologist. One reason that you should not pursue online study at this level is because very few schools offer a forensic psychology PhD online. Of the online forensic psychology programs that are available at the doctorate level, none of them were accredited by the American Psychological Association in 2012, although this could change. That means that graduates who have online forensic psychology PhDs do not qualify to be licensed in most states. There is no reason to pursue a doctorate that will not let you work professionally.

Licensing Information

What else should I keep in mind when considering studying forensic psychology?

Licensing

If you want to practice forensic psychology, you need to be licensed by your state. States have different licensing requirements, but most states require that psychologists complete the following steps:

• graduate from a PhD or PsyD program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association
• complete an internship that is approved by the American Psychological Association
• complete 1 to 2 years of supervised work experience
• pass the state licensing examination

Before you choose a doctorate program, you should investigate the licensing requirements for the state that you want to practice in to make sure that it will prepare you to be licensed. You can either contact the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board or your state’s licensing board for specific information on state licensing laws.

Board Certification

Some forensic psychologists choose to become board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which means that they are specially certified to practice forensic psychology. Board certification is not required to practice forensic psychology, but it is a respected credential in the field. ABPP certification is recognized by the American Psychological Association.

To become board certified, candidates must show advanced professional skills and knowledge in forensic psychology. In addition, the certification process includes a review of the candidate’s educational training and professional experience in forensic psychology. You can contact the American Board of Forensic Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology for more information about becoming board certified.

Questions & Answers

Select a category to find answers to your questions

Resources

What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree in forensic psychology?

American Board of Forensic Psychology

American Psychological Association

American Psychology-Law Society

American Board of Professional Psychology

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Psychologists