Learn about academic and career opportunities in the field of general forensic psychology. Find out what education you'd need to work as a forensic psychologist, and check the job outlook and salary potential for these professionals.
General forensic psychology is a specialized field that involves the application of psychological concepts to the criminal justice system. As a forensic psychologist, you may assist in the investigation of a wide range of legal cases, including family, civil and criminal proceedings. Depending on your area of specialty, you'll interview witnesses, provide mental health assessments for youth and adult offenders, investigate reports of abuse and provide psychotherapeutic services. Forensic psychologists also serve as expert witnesses in court.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for psychologists in general was expected to grow by 12% from 2012-2022. Those with a doctoral degree and an applied specialty may enjoy the best job opportunities. In May 2013, the mean annual salary for psychologists with various specializations, including forensic psychologists, was $88,400 (www.bls.gov).
In most cases, you need to earn a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and obtain state licensure in order to work as a forensic psychologist. You may be able to choose a forensic specialization after enrolling in a clinical psychology program; doctoral programs specifically in forensic psychology are rare. Common topics of study in the field include the relationship between psychology and criminology, forensic assessment techniques, psychological profiling and expert testimony. Regardless of the program you choose, you'll complete a clinical practicum, as well as a dissertation, in order to earn a doctorate.
A bachelor's program in psychology can provide a good academic foundation if you're interested in graduate-level study. Core coursework typically includes topics in psychology research methods, behavior modification techniques and personality disorders.
Programs that lead to a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice can also be a good starting point if you're interested in forensic psychology. Although criminal justice programs may include some psychology courses, curriculum emphasis is usually on the penal system, criminal procedure and correctional facilities administration. While these programs can prepare you for graduate school, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology or criminal justice can also lead to a non-clinical career in social work, human services or corrections.
Earning a master's degree in forensic psychology can lead to work as a psychologist's assistant or as a counselor for youth and adult offenders. Master's programs often focus on forensic interviewing techniques, research methods and therapeutic counseling. Most of these programs will require you to complete a field experience with a criminal justice or victim advocacy organization.
Although licensure requirements for psychologists vary by state, they typically include a doctorate, several years of professional experience, completion of an internship and a passing score on a professional practice exam. While licensure is mandated for independent practice, certification is typically voluntary. Certification is overseen by the American Board of Professional Psychology, which offers specialty certification in forensic psychology, among other areas.