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How to Become a Forensic Psychologist: A 6-Step Guide

how to become a forensic psychologist

Forensic psychology is a relatively new field and famous, thanks to shows like CSI and Criminal Minds. It offers the opportunity to apply expert knowledge of human behavior in legal cases. Forensic psychologists often work alongside clients, attorneys, judges, and law enforcement agents.

Although popular, people only have a vague notion of forensic psychology. Some might confuse it with criminal psychology. The fields are related, but forensic psychologists and criminologists perform different functions. For that reason, we’ll start with a proper definition of forensic psychology and how it differs from criminal psychology.

After that, we’ll answer the rest of your questions, “how to become a criminal psychologist.” You’ll learn the needed skills, the steps to take, financial compensation, career paths, and everything in between.

What Is Forensic Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association, forensic psychology is the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena. Forensic psychologists are frequently called upon to use their psychological skills to aid the legal system. They can serve as expert witnesses in law courts. They also conduct research and experiments in different areas, including cognitive and social psychology.

Differences between Forensic Psychology and Forensic Criminology

Forensic PsychologyForensic Criminology
Involves applying psychology to all legal matters, both civil and criminal cases.They must understand a criminal’s mindset and whether they may have committed a crime.
Their job encompasses everything that concerns psychology as it relates to the law.Criminal psychologists work more closely with law enforcement agencies.
They conduct psychological assessments on suspects to determine their ability to stand trial.They evaluate crime scenes, victims, and witnesses.
Forensic psychologists study the after-effects of a crime and work out strategies to prevent crimes. They also aid in the rehabilitation of offenders.Forensic Criminologists also profile criminals to help law enforcement agencies apprehend them.

Subspecialties of Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology has many sub-subspecialties:

  • Police psychology
  • Correctional Psychology
  • Civil Psychology
  • Juvenile Psychology
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Investigative Psychology

Police Psychologists

A police psychologist works in or with p.d.’s to assess aspiring officers and active police. They help train officers to manage work situations and organize drafting work schedules. Another duty of police psychologists is to counsel offenders. For example, they may carry out evaluations and research new interrogation techniques.

Correctional Psychology

To work in the correctional system, a forensic psychologist must first understand how psychology applies to the law. The role they play is to ensure the safety and well-being of inmates. This role involves assessing and screening prospective prison employees, interviewing offenders to ascertain their risk, and also treating inmates with mental issues.

Civil Psychology

These psychologists aid civil courts in administering justice. They take on divorce, child custody, personal injury, workers’ compensation, harassment, etc. When monetary compensation is involved, forensic psychologists are immediately called upon to determine if a defendant’s actions hugely affect the plaintiff.

Juvenile Psychology

Forensic psychologists are an integral part of the juvenile justice system. Unlike in adult courtrooms, prioritization rests with rehabilitation and treatment options in juvenile courts. Forensic psychologists help attorneys and judges come to conclusions based on their offender assessment. They provide treatment services to juvenile offenders to decrease the likelihood of re-offending.

Criminal Psychology

In criminal courts, forensic psychologists conduct Forensic Mental Health Assessments (FMHAs) that analyze clinical data relevant to a case. The most common assessment forensic psychologists encounter is the fitness to stand trial and criminal responsibility of an offender.

Investigative Psychology

Investigative psychology is the process of solving crimes. In this role, professional knowledge in criminal profiling, polygraph tests, and other investigative techniques and skills is a priority. These psychologists must conduct scientific research to analyze and evaluate crimes and suspect criminals.

Responsibilities of a Forensic Psychologist

As you’ve seen from the different subspecialties, forensic psychologists work in focused, challenging, and dynamic environments. Their day-to-day activities largely depend on their specialty and where they find themselves.

But wherever they are, forensic psychologists use their expert clinical knowledge to solve crimes and aid their clients. Here are some of the responsibilities of a forensic psychologist:

  • Assessing offenders to determine the risk of re-offending.
  • Evaluating offenders to determine competency to stand trial
  • Providing expert testimony in court
  • Counseling— this can be either law enforcement agents exposed to trauma or offenders
  • Screening prospective employees of the police force and correctional facilities
  • Educating law enforcement agents on how to manage offenders with mental illnesses
  • Determining the extent of monetary damage suffered by a plaintiff in civil cases
  • Researching innovative interrogation strategies
  • Conducting child custody evaluations
  • Provide psychotherapy treatment to inmates of correctional facilities

Forensic Psychologist Requirements – Skills

Every forensic psychologist must have fundamental skills essential to perform their duties optimally. Such skills include:

Communication

The job revolves around effective communication. Forensic psychologists have excellent speaking and listening skills, but they must also know how to write academically, set goals with their clients, and lead. They regularly communicate with judges, attorneys, offenders, police, and victims. In each scenario, they must adjust their communication to fit what is required.

Critical Thinking & Writing

Forensic psychology is a field that involves observation and deductions. Different types of assessments, research, strategy, and planning are all proclivities of the forensic psychologist.

Punctiliousness

Punctilious means close attention to details—every little detail matters in a court case. By observing body language and other non-verbal expressions, they can analyze situations and devise ways to manage them. For example, they can tell based on observation of a suspect during a polygraph test if the suspect is lying. The correctional system relies on the power of observation to determine if an offender is ready to be reintegrated into society.

Impersonality

Forensic psychologists shouldn’t let their emotions get in the way of their work. Regardless of who they’re working with, they must not become involved past their professional duties.

Empathy

Although forensic psychologists must always be professional, empathy is still necessary. They have to strike a balance between being empathic and getting emotionally involved. Empathy is crucial because it helps relate to a client’s situation to provide the best help possible for them.

How To Become a Forensic Psychologist

Earning the “forensic psychologist” title requires years of study and dedication. Follow the steps below to find out how to become a forensic psychologist and remain relevant in the profession:

Step 1: Earn a Forensic Psychology Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years of study. You can pursue a forensic psychology degree or a degree in general psychology. Any will do. Students with a bachelor’s may transfer some credit towards a master’s in the same program. Unlike a regular psychology degree, a forensic psychology degree covers general psychology and an introduction to criminology and law courses.

Step 2: Enroll in an Online Forensic Psychology Master’s

After bagging your bachelor’s, the next step is enrolling in a forensic psychology master’s program. This step heavily focuses on the connection between psychology and the law. An online forensic psychology degree often includes creating and defending a master’s thesis project. An in-field experience and comprehensive exam will also ensure you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 3: Study for a Doctorate

To practice as a forensic psychologist, you need a doctorate. It could be either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.

Students can skip Step 2 above and enroll for a doctorate after their bachelor’s. However, not all forensic psychology graduate programs are the same. Check to make sure that’s possible with your ideal program. You’ll be required to complete original research and write a dissertation to earn your doctorate. You’ll also begin working under the supervision of a licensed forensic psychologist as part of your field training.

Step 4: Complete the Number of Required Supervised Working Hours

This number varies from state to state, required before applying for a license to practice. The APA states that the average required hours is 4,000. You’re now ready to start working as a forensic psychologist.

Step 5: Take Your EPPP Exam

ASPPB, or, The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, developed The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). And the APA administers the exam. After passing, forensic psychologists become eligible to receive state licensure and operate unsupervised.

Step 6: Apply for Board Certification

Although this is not a legal requirement to practice, many forensic psychologists still pursue board certification. Becoming certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers a career boost and portrays you as a true professional dedicated to the field. You’ll need to meet requirements and sit for examinations to obtain board certification. The ABPP charges $550 for forensic psychologists, while the written exam fee is $300.

Where can a Forensic Psychologist Work?

Forensic psychologists can work anywhere their services are needed. They typically work in an office, lab, or hospital setting. Most jobs, indeed the highest paying jobs, are in metropolitan areas. Forensic psychologists with crime-solving careers interview suspects or offenders, provide testimony in courtrooms and conduct assessments.

Some professionals focus on research or teaching in higher ed. Where forensic psychologists work includes but is not limited to:

  • Corrections facilities
  • Police departments
  • Government Agencies
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Hospitals
  • Social Services
  • Institutions of Higher Learning

Forensic Psychologists Salary

According to data from Payscale.com, the average amount a forensic psychologist earns yearly is $74,000. The bottom 10% in the profession earn $40,000, while the top 10% earn well over $100,000. It’s important to note that these figures heavily depend on your years of experience.

Individuals with less than a year of experience earn $55,000 on average. In contrast, more experienced professionals with over 20 years experience make around $93,000. The state you reside in also determines how much you take home each year. California, Alaska, Virginia, and New York are some of the best-paying states.

Common Career Paths for Forensic Psychologists

If you’re considering becoming a forensic psychologist, it’s essential to know your career options. There are so many options available, and it’s not uncommon for forensic psychologists to pick a career option and then branch out later. We’ve highlighted the most common career options that forensic psychologists choose.

Counseling

Counselors use their professional training to advise and help people who need it. A career in counseling can lead forensic psychologists down various paths. They can work as family counselors, drug and substance abuse counselors, or even school counselors. In each of these roles, a forensic psychologist’s primary goal is to improve people’s quality of life and help them gain clarity.

Law Enforcement

A career in law enforcement is quite popular among forensic psychologists. They either work full-time with law enforcement agencies or as consultants. Forensic psychologists aid in investigative processes and screen and provide counseling for personnel. They train in crisis intervention and management. When not working directly with law enforcement agencies, they research and develop new training programs and personnel management strategies.

Research and Academia

Some forensic psychologists also decide to base their careers on research. They study existing processes, treatments, and assessments to determine the effectiveness and how to make them better. For example, their focus may be improving existing interrogation techniques or developing new tests to assess offenders. Forensic psychologists in academia focus on teaching and exploring new areas of psychology-related research.

Victim Advocacy

As victim advocates, forensic psychologists utilize their knowledge to support victims/survivors of a crime and their friends and family. Asides from providing support, they educate and teach prevention strategies to survivors. Victim advocates also offer their clients resources and help them through legal proceedings.

The Best Jobs for Forensic Psychologists

After spending years studying to become a forensic psychologist and obtaining a license, a world of opportunities is yours to explore. You’ll find roles that can help you pursue your passion, no matter your interests. The list below is not exhaustive. It only highlights some jobs you can get with a forensic psychology degree.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists are highly trained individuals who practice psychology in the legal system. They strive to understand the motive behind crimes and how to prevent such crimes from happening in the future. In addition to that, they perform duties peculiar to their sub-specialties. Most states require that aspiring forensic psychologists obtain a doctorate before being licensed and allowed to practice independently.

Crime Analyst

This job may be a perfect choice if you love researching and analyzing data. Crime analysts work closely with police departments to collect data and analyze crime trends. These analyses can help police departments strategically deploy staffing and resources to fight crimes. They also conduct interviews and analyze materials contained in crime scenes.

Probation Officer

Probation officers are individuals appointed by a court of law to monitor the activity of offenders on probation. Their core responsibility is to ensure that probationers adhere to the conditions of their release. Other responsibilities include tracking offenders’ progress and writing reports based on findings. They equally help rehabilitate offenders and arrange treatment plans when necessary.

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers, also known as prison officers, supervise inmates in prisons and corrections facilities. They are responsible for ensuring that inmates follow the institution’s rules where they are confined. They also observe inmates to detect and manage behavioral changes. Before allowing a visitor to see an inmate, they screen them first.

Court Liaison

This set of professionals supports police officers and district attorneys in obtaining justice in court. They are non-sworn members of law enforcement and perform a range of functions. From ensuring that the district attorney’s court documents are up to date to helping police officers prepare to provide testimony. They also have to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding information sharing.

Jury Consultant

Jury consultants play a vital part in the selection of court jurors. They conduct background checks on prospective jurors before profiling and interviewing them. They may also run focus groups and mock trials. Their expert knowledge of human behavior ensures that a juror is the best candidate for a trial.

Criminal Profiler

Criminal profilers, otherwise known as criminal investigative analysts, are professionals with a background in psychology or criminology that aid investigation processes. To build a suspect profile, they can connect the dots between similar crimes based on evidence, eyewitness reports, and victim testimony. A suspect profile helps narrow the suspect list and can lead to faster apprehension of the suspect.

Correctional Psychologist

A correctional psychologist takes care of the mental welfare of inmates in correctional institutions. Correctional psychologists help inmates make the transition to everyday life easier through rehabilitation. A doctorate is mandatory to practice as a correctional psychologist.

Forensic Social Worker

According to the National Organization of Forensic Social Work (NOFSW), forensic social workers apply social work principles to questions and issues relating to law and legal systems. They’re responsible for providing support to those undergoing situations that can adversely affect the well-being of children. These include child custody cases, incarceration, divorce, etc. They can also serve as expert witnesses.

Forensic Case Manager

Forensic case managers act on behalf of criminals with mental or substance abuse challenges in legal proceedings. For non-severe cases, they can administer treatment. When they cannot help, they refer clients to treatment centers that can. Plus, they serve as the primary contact between courts and correctional facilities. Psychology skills, working knowledge of the law, and proper education about mental health and substance abuse are necessary for this role.

Learn How to Become a Forensic Psychologist Online Today!

There are many reasons to become forensic psychologists. It could be because of the attractive salary or the personal fulfillment of working in the criminal justice system. Whatever the reason, GetEducated.com can help you get there.

Find the online forensic psychology degree for you, whether it’s a bachelor’s or graduate program, and start your new career path today!

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