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Forensic Psychology Careers

A Closer Look at Careers in Forensic Psychology

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Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is a specialty area that deals with issues that involve psychology and the law. Learn more about careers in forensic psychology.

Julie Elliott

What is forensic psychology?

Forensic psychology involves applying psychology to the field of criminal investigation and the law. The popularity of forensic psychology has grown phenomenally in recent years, partly due to sensationalized portrayals of the field in movies and television, which are not always accurate. Forensic psychologists are often depicted as criminal profilers who are able to almost psychically deduce a killer's next move. In reality, these professionals practice psychology as a science within the criminal justice system and civil courts.

What do forensic psychologists do?

Forensic psychologists are often involved in custody disputes, insurance claims and lawsuits. Some professionals work in family courts and offer psychotherapy services, perform child custody evaluations, investigate reports of child abuse and conduct visitation risk assessments.

Those working in the civil courts often assess competency, provide second opinions, and provide psychotherapy to crime victims. Professionals working in the criminal courts conduct evaluations of mental competency, work with child witnesses, and provide assessment of juvenile and adult offenders.

How much do forensic psychologists typically earn?

Salaries within forensic psychology can range greatly depending on the sector of employment, although most entry-level positions for those with a doctorate degree start out between $60,000 and $70,000 annually. Individuals with a bachelor's or master's degree generally hold the title of psychological assistant or psychological associate. Starting level salaries for these positions generally start around $35,000 or $40,000. Those in private practice who offer consulting services typically earn more, often in the $85,000 to $95,000 range.

What type of degree do forensic psychologists need?

Forensic psychologists need a doctoral degree in psychology, usually in clinical or counseling psychology. A number of schools such as the University of Arizona and the University of Virginia offer degrees specifically focused on forensic psychology that combine courses in both psychology and law. Such a degree typically takes 5 to 7 years of graduate study to complete and admission into doctoral programs is highly competitive.

After the appropriate education, training, and experience, forensic psychologist can apply for board certification. The American Board of Forensic Psychology offers professionals the opportunity to be certified as a Diplomat of Forensic Psychology.

Is a career in forensic psychology right for me?

Before you decide on a career in forensic psychology, there are a few factors you should consider. Do you enjoy working with others? Forensic psychologists usually work with a team of other professionals in addition to working directly with clients or criminal offenders. Do you enjoy challenging problems? In most situations, people are experiencing problems that cannot be easily or quickly resolved.

Forensic psychologists need patience, creativity, and commitment. Are you interested in studying both law and psychology? Students who enjoy both subjects may find that forensic psychology is the perfect career choice.

What are the pros and cons of a career in forensic psychology?

Benefits of a Career in Forensic Psychology
  • The opportunity to help others
  • Diverse career paths (i.e. criminal courts, consulting, government, education)
  • Can be a challenging and rewarding career
Downsides of a Career in Forensic Psychology
  • Requires a substantial time commitment (5-7 years of graduate study)
  • Pay is usually low in relation to the amount of education and work required
  • Frustration, stress, and burnout can occur

Should You Become a Forensic Psychologist? - Take this brief quiz to learn if a career in forensic psychology is right for you.

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