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Forensic Psychiatry Education and Career Facts

Forensic psychiatrists diagnose and counsel individuals in the criminal justice system, such as incarcerated prisoners, who have mental illnesses or behavioral problems. Learn more about the education and career requirements for this field.

What You Need to Know

Psychiatrists treat the effects of mental illness and disorders of the mind using psychotherapy, medication and strategies to help patients change harmful behaviors. After receiving a thorough education as a forensic psychiatrist, you can use the tools of psychiatry to analyze and treat individuals who are incarcerated or hospitalized due to criminal behavior related to mental disorders.

Courses Biological factors related to crime, civil and criminal law, correctional psychiatry, landmark mental health cases, federal criminal law
Licensure Required by the state in order to practice medicine professionally
Certification Sub-specialty certification in forensic psychiatry is available from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Mean Annual Salary (2019)* more than $208,000 per year (for all psychiatrists)
Outlook (2019-2029)* 12% (for all psychiatrists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do I Start My Education to Become a Forensic Psychiatrist?

All forensic psychiatrists must complete the steps to become licensed to practice medicine. At the undergraduate level, you can earn a bachelor's degree with courses in biology, chemistry, physics and math. You will then need to complete four years of medical school in order to qualify to become a licensed physician. In medical school, you may complete two years of medical courses in biochemistry, pharmacology, anatomy and other general medicine subjects, followed by two years in rotation between different specialties, including psychiatry.

What Happens After Medical School?

After medical school, you can complete a residency experience in general psychiatry, which can take about four years to complete and is a paid position. Completing such a program can qualify you to become a board certified psychiatrist with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Forensic psychiatry programs are most commonly offered as 1-year residency or fellowship programs which are designed to offer forensic specialization to certified psychiatrists. Certification in forensic psychiatry as a sub-specialty is also available through the ABPN. For certification, the forensic psychiatry program must be Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited, meaning it would include courses in medical case law, report preparation and research. These programs can focus on both clinical and legal issues in forensic psychiatry, including case assessment and mock trials, and may offer a specialization opportunity in a subject like child and adolescent forensic psychiatry. Rotation sites can include the following:

  • Hospitals
  • Courtrooms
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Prisons
  • Treatment centers

What Are My Career Prospects?

Psychiatrists use observation, medication, group therapy and hospitalization to help patients who suffer from mental illness. As a forensic psychiatrist, you could be responsible for analysis of both criminal and civil offenders, including direct patient interaction.

As a board certified forensic psychiatrist, you can work within correctional facilities and hospitals, as well as with law enforcement agencies. As of 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) listed a wage of more than $208,000 for all psychiatrists. Jobs for psychiatrists were projected to grow by 12% from 2019-2029, which is much faster than average, per the BLS.