PsyD Programs in Forensic Psychology

A PsyD in Forensic Psychology prepares graduates for a variety of careers applying clinical psychology in legal settings. This article discusses the admission requirements, common courses, and outcomes for students who chose to pursue this degree. Schools offering Forensic Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

How to Earn a PsyD in Forensic Psychology

A PsyD in Forensic Psychology is a 5-year program that prepares graduates for both clinical and research positions. Oftentimes this program is listed as a concentration within a clinical psychology PsyD program, so graduates tend to focus on the clinical side of psychology research and practice. To apply students need demonstrated success in college-level psychology coursework (usually a bachelor's degree or master's degree in psychology), letters of recommendation, and GRE test scores.

Psychology and the Law

In this introductory course students learn about the history, laws, and philosophy behind forensic psychology. To complement their future research and practice, students come out of this class with a good understanding of the legal field, mental health, and how mental health and criminal conduct interact. Students may study important legal cases that involve mental health law and/or the interaction between mental health and criminal conduct.

Diversity in Forensic Psychology

Graduates with a PsyD in Forensic Psychology must know how to check their own biases and work with diverse populations. This class prepares students for their careers by introducing them to diverse worldviews and how these worldviews can affect psychological behavior. The course may also include modules on how race, gender, disability, social class, religion, and sexual orientation might interact with mental health in a legal context.

Clinical Neuroscience

This course allows students to explore how new technology and research on brain anatomy has transformed research in clinical psychology. Students learn how psychologists use imaging and analysis of the physical brain to understand normal and abnormal human behavior. They explore the most up-to-date academic literature on psychophysiology and endocrinology.

Juvenile Forensic Psychology

In this course students learn how to classify, assess, and treat juvenile offenders. They explore the various factors most common in juvenile misbehavior as well as legal responses to juvenile delinquency. Students become intimately familiar with the juvenile justice system by analyzing case studies.


This survey course introduces students to a wide variety of mental disorders. Students learn how to identify and diagnose different types mental disorders and suggest treatment. In a forensic context, psychopathology is also important for determining the fitness of jury members, witnesses, and defendants. Students learn to use the DSM-V-TR to conduct their own assessments for diverse types of patients.

Forensic Assessment

After taking basic courses on psychopathology, a forensic psychology student learns how to apply their diagnostic skills in a legal context. This class introduces students to tools that aid professionals in this process, including the Hare PCL-R, ECST-R, MacCAT-CA, MAYSI-2, VIP, PSI, and TSI. By the end of the course, students are prepared to practice their diagnostic skills in a practicum or internship setting.

Quantitative/Qualitative Research Methods

To prepare for the research component of a PsyD program, students take courses on research and data analysis techniques. These classes may include modules on inferential and differential statistics, research methodology, and incorporating and critiquing academic psychology literature. The skills students develop in this course prepare them to complete their independent research project.


In the second or third year of the program, students begin completing clinical practicums at psychology centers housed within their university or in clinical settings within their local community. Through the rest of the course, students may complement academic coursework with hands-on work in the field alongside forensic psychology professionals. They have the chance to interact with a wide range of clients and gain experience making assessments and/or conducting psychotherapy sessions in forensic settings.


In addition to observing psychology professionals at work, many forensic psychology PsyD programs require students to complete a semester- or year-long internship at a forensic psychology training site. Students conduct experiments under the supervision of professors, researchers, and clinical psychologists. Because there are a limited number of training sites sprinkled across the country, students may need to relocate for this part of the program.

Research Project

During the final 3-4 years of the program, students conduct their own original research project under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Through this project, students apply what they learned in their research-based classes. They collect data, conduct experiments, and write a thesis to present their findings. Potential research areas include inmate attachment, jail re-entry, and psychopathology. Before graduation, students must defend their thesis before a panel of academic experts.

A PsyD in Forensic Psychology is an advanced clinical psychology degree that prepares graduates to work in various legal contexts. Over the course of this 5-year program, students study, practice, and research clinical psychology methods as they relate to abnormal behavior and the law.

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