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Master's Degree Programs in Forensic Psychology

Master's degree programs in forensic psychology provide a deeper understanding of the ways in which the law uses psychological theories and practices to enhance the justice system.

Information for Forensic Psychology Master's Degree Programs

Forensic psychology master's degree programs are designed for those who want to gain greater knowledge in the area where psychological theories and research intersect with the law. These programs are most often housed in a university or college department of psychology, but may sometimes overlap with other schools such as criminology. Typically, a master's in forensic psychology requires 1.5 to 2 years for completion. There are opportunities to pursue a master's in forensic psychology online as well as on campus, with some institutions offering both options. Upon receiving their degrees, students will have come to understand how criminal behavior is affected by psychology and biology, the basics of conducting research, and the ways to assess and diagnose psychopathology in a person as well as a number of other important factors that make up the daily life of a forensic psychologist. Below are some descriptions of the types of classes a student might encounter in one of these programs.

Forensic Psychology/Intro To Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology classes will usually be required of any student pursuing a master's in the discipline of forensic psychology. Sometimes, depending on the school, these courses will be prerequisites for admission to a program. What master's students will learn starts with an overview of how psychology is applied to both civil and criminal law. Topics may include legal issues both historic and contemporary, use of the insanity defense and its legitimacy, sentencing guidelines, capital punishment, and competency for standing trial.

Research Methods

Master's degree programs in forensic psychology will typically feature a course in the methodology used in psychological research. These classes are designed to teach students the ways in which they can discredit statistical fallacies and comprehend the evidence and literature that they will come across in their careers. The topics in a research methods course may touch on subjects such as methods and designs, epistemology, parametric techniques, and variance analysis.

Psychopathology

Courses in psychopathology will provide an overview of the science that studies mental health disorders and how those disorders affect the law. Particularly relevant for forensic psychology master's students will be the way in which tests are conducted to determine levels of psychopathic behavior as well as other disorder categories. Topics may include family violence, the trauma that can lead to violent behavior, the development of a violent personality, and strategies for the practicing psychologist when treating someone with a mental disorder.

Statistics

A course in statistics will help master's degree students in forensic psychology understand the inferences made from research in psychological studies. It will also enable them to better understand how errors could be made in interpretation and how to avoid those errors. Some themes touched upon in a statistics for psychology class include parametric and nonparametric statistics, using SPSS and interpreting its output, statistical assumptions, and the use of basic procedures. Although heavily dependent on the use of math, students need only have basic math skills to succeed.

Psychology of Criminal Behavior

Classes in the psychology of criminal behavior will go into a deep discussion of what research has shown about the psychological motives that lead to criminality and how a psychological approach can help to curtail it. Master's students in forensic psychology may be presented with topics that include the study of higher-profile criminals and an overview of the different elements that can lead to criminal behavior, including biology and the surrounding environment. Other themes these courses may touch upon cover terrorism, racial profiling, and gender issues.

Ethical Issues in Forensic Psychology

A forensic psychology master's degree program will often feature a course in the ethics involved when a psychologist becomes part of the legal system. These classes will go into depth covering various topics such as standards of practice, what is expected of an expert witness, how to protect a defendant's rights, the process of evaluating competency, the psychologist's duty to a witness or defendant, and the right of refusing or consenting to treatment.

Admission Requirement for Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology Programs

In order to gain admission to a forensic psychology master's program, a prospective student will need to submit transcripts from any college or university previously attended. Applicants must have attained a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field. Typically, a program will require the applicant to have held at least a 2.5 GPA; however, a 3.4 GPA or higher will most likely be needed for an applicant to be competitive. Also, applicants must have taken the GRE. Finally, the prospective student will need to submit at least two letters of recommendation, with one being from an academic source, and a current resume as part of the admissions packet.

Forensic psychology master's degree programs instruct students in the theories of psychology and skills of assessment to work successfully in a legal domain. The classes taken in these competitive programs enhance a student's knowledge of psychological theory, testing, and client rights.