PhD Programs in Forensic Psychology

Ph.D. programs in forensic psychology give students professional knowledge of the theories, skills, and techniques necessary for careers that apply principles of psychology to the law. Schools offering Forensic Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

An Overview of Ph.D. Programs in Forensic Psychology

Ph.D. programs in forensic psychology provide in-depth professional knowledge of the ways psychological research, assessments, and practices are applied in a legal setting. There are a number of institutions that offer forensic psychology Ph.D. programs, as well as programs that offer Ph.D.s in areas such as clinical psychology with a forensic psychology concentration. A program can typically take 3 to 5 years to complete. In addition to a core of required courses and class hours, Ph.D. candidates will also have to fulfill a practicum requirement and complete a dissertation based on research made in forensic psychology. The following is a list of some classes that students may take while pursuing their degrees.

Forensic Psychological Assessment

A forensic psychology student will often find a forensic assessment course in the curricula of many Ph.D. programs. These classes will provide an overview of the techniques and types of instrumentation used in the forensic field. Topics covered may include assessment of risk for self-harm as well as harm to others, evaluation of juveniles, child custody evaluations, and the legal boundaries of assessment. Many of these classes require prior knowledge of the subject in order to better participate in open discussions and interactive exercises.

Psychological Treatments/Interventions in Forensic Settings

Many Ph.D. programs in forensic psychology will feature a course on treating psychological issues in a forensic area. Students will learn of the different strategies involved for treatment across a wide-ranging population that may include sex offenders, people addicted to various substances, and white-collar suspects and criminals. At the heart of the techniques demonstrated is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Many of the themes touched upon include the various aspects of CBT, like motivational interviewing, acceptance and commitment theory, and dialectical behavioral therapy. In some instances, Ph.D. students may also participate in group projects where they demonstrate their knowledge through dramatized therapy sessions.

Psychopathology & Treatments

When pursuing a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology, students will often take a course in psychopathology and the treatments available for it. These classes will take an overview of the subject by looking at the causes of psychopathology, the way in which violent criminal behavior develops, and how to make predictions of when it may occur. Other topics covered can include various personality types found in the criminal justice system, including sex offenders, developmentally disabled offenders, and female offenders.

Psychological Analysis

Forensic psychology Ph.D. students will find a psychological analysis course in the their programs' curricula. These are classes that build on knowledge of quantitative reasoning by allowing participants to display that knowledge and skills they have attained previously. Themes in a psychological analysis class will go into a wide variety of research specializations, such as multivariate data analysis, mediation, moderation, and logistic regression. Students will also have the chance to use analytical software for the purpose of creating a research project where they will interpret a set of data and present it to an audience.

Career Paths for Forensic Psychology Ph.D.s

Criminal Researchers

A criminal researcher uses his/her knowledge of forensic psychology to analyze statistics and examine data retrieved from crime scenes. After this analysis, they are called upon to theorize about the criminal cases that develop from those crime scenes. Factors that go into a criminal researcher's theory of a crime may include interviews with suspects, the victims of the crime, and the friends and family of both parties. The criminal researcher may also be called upon to facilitate a profile used for capturing unidentified suspects and witnesses.

Expert Witness

During a criminal or civil trial, expert witnesses are often called upon to provide knowledge of a subject that a defense attorney or prosecutor needs to make their case. A forensic psychology expert would be asked to provide testimony on aspects that include a specific individual's mental state, crime data analysis, and investigation procedures to name a few.

Forensic Social Worker

Forensic social workers are specialists in the profession of social work. They work in the criminal justice system to help both victims and perpetrators of crimes manage the consequences of those activities. Their specialized job is to act as liaisons between the individuals affected by various types of legal and social issues and law enforcement and the courts.

Jury Consultant

The job of a jury consultant, or trial consultant, enables attorneys to choose members of a jury and present facts to the jury that will help them win a case. They use quantitative research as well as interviews of potential jurors to get a better understanding of a jury's psychological makeup, then strategize with lawyers to present facts and witnesses that appeal to this psychology. In some instances, a consultant might also be present at the trial in order to visualize the effects a presentation has on jury members.

Job Title Median Salary Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Criminal Researcher $50,868 (2019)** 14% (all psychologists)
Expert Witness $117,724 (2019)*** 14% (all psychologists)
Forensic Social Worker $47,349 (2019)** 11% (all social workers)
Jury Consultant $59,978 (2019)*** 14% (all psychologists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **, ***

Ph.D. programs in forensic psychology provide an opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career in the area where psychology and the legal system meet. Coursework in assessment, treatment, and analysis will prepare students for assisting attorneys and law enforcement and providing psychological counseling or intervention for defendants, victims, and others that are affected by crime and its various outcomes.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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