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Forensic Psychology: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a forensic psychologist. Learn about educational requirements, licensure, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What is a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic psychologists use their knowledge of psychology to assist with legal matters, including criminal and civil court cases. They usually have to participate in court as a witness and assist judges, attorneys, or other court personnel in legal matters. Professionals in this field follow the basic principles of psychology. Psychologists seek to understand social and emotional behavioral issues and patterns by conducting scientific studies, producing conclusions on behavioral or psychological issues by collecting information, forming treatments and solutions for clients, and writing research reports.

See the below table for more information about what it takes to become a forensic psychologist.

Degree Required Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Forensic psychology, psychology with concentration in forensics
Licensure Required Licensure requirements vary by state
Training Required 1,000 hours of work experience for American Board of Professional Psychology credential
Job Growth (2018-2028) 14% (psychologists)*
Average Salary (2018) $95,610 (psychologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychology is a field of the mental health sciences that uses psychological knowledge and counseling practices within the judicial system. A forensic psychologist assists members of the legal system in assessing psychological aspects of a case. These psychologists might work in civil, criminal or family courts, corrections facilities, government offices or law enforcement agencies. Examples of job duties include evaluating a child's mental health in a custody dispute, counseling criminal offenders or testifying in court about an offender's mental state.

What Education Do I Need?

You need a doctoral degree to work as a forensic psychologist. Many programs offer a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology with a concentration in forensics. In these programs, you learn about the legal system and mental health issues. You may take learn about forensic report writing, treatment of criminal offenders and testifying in court. You also usually write a dissertation and complete a large amount of fieldwork. After graduating, you may be eligible to sit for national certification or state licensing exams.

Some programs may also offer a combined Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Ph.D. programs. In these programs you study the theory and methodology of law and psychology as well as courses that discuss the intersection between public policy, law and psychology. You also complete research and an internship.

Do I Need Certification?

To work as a psychologist, you must be licensed in the state in which you intend to practice. Each state has different licensure requirements. The American Board of Professional Psychology offers the Diploma in Forensic Psychology credential. To earn the credential and become a diplomate, you must complete oral and written examinations.

To be eligible for the credential, you must meet both the general and forensic-psychology specific requirements. General requirements include having a doctoral degree in professional psychology from a school accredited by the American Psychological Association, being licensed in the state in which you practice and having work experience in the field. Forensic-specific credentialing requirements include having completed 100 hours of education or direct supervision and having 1,000 hours of work experience in forensic psychology.

How Much Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes forensic psychologists within the category of general psychologists. Job growth for all psychologists was expected to see around a 14% increase from 2018-2028, which is much faster than average growth (www.bls.gov).

According to the BLS, in 2018 there were 13,480 psychologists in the nation. These professionals earned an average annual salary of $95,610.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One of the industries that is similar to forensic psychology is a career as an anthropologist or archeologist. This field involves studying the origin and development of human behavior by investigating various cultures and their archeological remains. These researchers typically work for consulting firms or government agencies and made a median annual salary of $62,410 in 2018. Sociology is another alternative career that requires professionals to form conclusions on societal behavior by observing social interactions of organizations, cultures, and social groups. You can find sociologists working at research organizations or within the government and making $82,050 a year, according to the 2018 median annual salary report. Most positions in these fields require at least a master's degree.