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Q&A - Jobs & Careers

Where will I work in my forensic psychology career?

The best careers in forensic psychology provide you with flexibility in your schedule while you consult on civil and criminal cases with law enforcement and legal teams. In fact, most forensic psychologists do not work in the field full time. Many maintain a clinical practice working in a hospital, mental health facility or rehabilitation center and meeting face to face with patients.

Many of the most well-known names in the field began their forensic psychology careers as faculty members at universities. Some still teach courses and conduct research while consulting on cases with law enforcement and law firms.

Jobs in forensic psychology rarely require the psychologist to be onsite, although clinical visits with patients and testifying in court are important parts of the career. As a forensic psychologist you will often be able to schedule your own work hours, although this may be difficult if you are employed by a government agency, law enforcement or a nonprofit organization.

How long does it take to find a job in forensic psychology?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is a good time to start your forensic psychology career. In fact, job growth for psychologists and mental health professionals is expected to grow by almost 22% between 2010 and 2020. This is faster than the average for all other professions.

The demand for more mental health professionals is seen primarily in clinical psychology and in applied specialties such as forensic psychology. An increase in demand for psychologists has been noted in private practice, hospitals and other mental healthcare settings.

Your prospects for forensic psychology jobs will be best if you have a doctoral degree in the specialty, since there will be increased competition for jobs that require only a masters degree. Because most respected forensic psychology online programs are offered by brick-and-mortar institutions, your job prospects if you hold 1 of these degrees should be the same as a student who completed coursework on campus.

How have forensic psychology careers changed over the years?

Since the late 1800s, psychologists have been called to testify in criminal and civil cases. In the beginning, however, they were not seen as credible witnesses and medical doctors were often consulted instead. This changed after early forensic psychologists testified in landmark cases. Mental health professionals were finally granted credibility and the support of the legal system in the 1962 case of Jenkins v. United States.

The American Psychological Association recognized forensic psychology as a specialty in 2001, calling it “Division 41.” Since that time, universities and law schools have been developing courses, minors and degree programs that lead to a career in forensic psychology. These programs allow you to learn about both psychology and the legal system, preparing you for a top forensic psychology job.

What are the top employers for forensic psychology jobs?

According to Payscale.com, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) employs more forensic psychologists than any other employer, followed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It is important to note, however, that most jobs with a forensic psychology degree requirement are in consulting and do not have a single employer.

A clinical psychologist with a forensic psychology certification can serve as a consultant for multiple clients at once. In addition, there are growing opportunities for professionals in the field at research universities and healthcare facilities. There is also a trend for large police departments, forensic laboratories and law firms to employ their own in-house forensic psychologist.

These jobs typically require a masters or doctorate in clinical or forensic psychology and the application process for these positions is competitive. Many online degrees in forensic psychology are identical to the degrees earned on campus and are treated equally by employers. Still, there are some strictly online institutions offering degrees in forensic psychology that are not as prestigious as a traditional degree.

What are the highest and lowest forensic psychology salaries that I could earn?

Financially, forensic psychologists can make a good living. The salary for forensic psychology jobs varies based on your education and what type of position you hold within the industry. Police departments, government agencies, prisons, law firms, universities, mental health clinics and nonprofit organizations all employ forensic psychologists. Salaries in the industry range from a low of $35,293 to a high of $118,975, according to Payscale.com.

The lowest forensic psychology pay typically goes to those in their early career or who have only a bachelors degree. The salary for a forensic psychology specialist with a bachelors degree ranges from $36,065 to $84,280 per year. In addition, nonprofits and government agencies pay lower forensic psychology salaries than mental health facilities and other positions in the healthcare industry.

Some forensic psychologists maintain a private practice in addition to their forensic psychology consulting work, consulting on criminal and civil cases for clients to supplement their income. Clinical psychology salaries range from $39,626 to $137,471 per year, with an average of $68,640, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many of the most highly regarded and sought after forensic psychologists typically are in full-time private practice, which can sometimes yield between $200,000 and $400,000 per year.

In addition to my forensic psychology salary, will I earn benefits?

In addition to your forensic psychology salary, you can also expect to receive healthcare benefits from your employer. Most employers subsidize medical, dental, vision and life insurance for employees. More than 80% grant full medical benefits, and only 13% of positions offer no health benefits in addition to a forensic psychology salary. These jobs are primarily in private practices where forensic psychologists are self-employed.

Most industries that employ forensic psychologists give workers paid holidays, vacation and sick leave in addition to a salary. Some positions award forensic psychology pay bonuses of up to $14,758. Many forensic psychologists also enjoy paid training opportunities through their employer, including continuing education classes necessary to maintain certification and reimbursement for university courses. A retirement plan is also available in many cases.

One major benefit of maintaining a private clinical practice is a flexible schedule as far as when and where you work. Being on site is only important when evaluating a patient or testifying in the courtroom. Maintaining a private practice also allows you to see patients and complete work for forensic clients as your schedule sees fit.

Will I always earn a salary in my forensic psychology job?

While many positions pay a salary for forensic psychology work, those in private practice are paid by the hour. Working for an agency, healthcare facility or nonprofit organization usually pays a salary, earning you the same pay no matter how many cases are examined or how many hours you work.

Consulting work and private practice, on the other hand, typically pay hourly or by the project. While practitioners who also maintain a clinical practice enjoy the highest overall pay of any forensic psychologist, it would be difficult to be paid for forensic work by salary with this type of job. This is because your work within the criminal and civil court system supplements your clinical work and is not a full-time job. As a consultant on forensic cases, you work for numerous clients instead of being paid by a single employer.

There are also other cases when you may be paid hourly in a forensic psychology position. Forensic psychology PhD programs typically require a period of hands-on training that is usually paid by the hour. Some hourly positions may be available if you are employed as an assistant or intern. These jobs are usually held by early career professionals or those who only have a bachelors degree.