How to Become A Forensic Psychologist

Psychology is a field that focuses on the behaviors and mental functions of individuals and groups. Using both general principles and researching specific cases, psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and human behavior. Some of these professionals focus on a particular population such as children.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts positive growth in the field. Therefore, pursuing a degree in psychology can be a suitable academic option.

What is forensic psychology?

Forensic psychologists are those psychologists that use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help attorneys, and other law enforcement professionals understand the psychological aspects of a particular case.

As a forensic psychologist you may have to evaluate civil litigants in a number of ways. For example, you may have to listen to a litigant's deposition, looking for verbal and non-verbal cues of deception. Besides, you may have to evaluate a litigant's mental capacity based on his/her ability to reason.

Forensic psychologists also conduct pre-trial and pre-release psychological evaluations.  Generally an evaluation would involve gathering background history; forensic psychologists complement this information. 

How to become a forensic psychologist?

Psychologists typically hold a doctoral degree while some may qualify for certain positions with a master’s degree in psychology. Students who want to get into the field of forensic psychology may pursue a doctoral degree usually in clinical or counseling psychology. They can enroll in a PhD in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology degree (Psy.D.). A PhD is a research based program that involves an examination and dissertation based on original research. A Psy.D. on the other hand, is a clinical degree typically based on practical work and exams. In addition to complete classroom based instruction, doctoral students also complete an internship as part of their program.

How long does it take to become a forensic psychologist?

Doctoral students generally spend five to six years to earn a doctoral degree. Besides, they also complete one year internship.  A master’s degree typically takes 2-3 years to complete. Practicing psychologists need either a license or certification as well.

Admissions requirements

Students, who wish to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, must hold an undergraduate degree in psychology or have completed foundational courses in psychology or a related field. Admissions to a doctoral degree program require applicants to possess a master’s or a bachelor’s degree and submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score. Other factors may vary by program type or school.

 

Coursework in psychology degree programs

Students in the psychology degree programs study a range of subjects that enables them to learn about the complexities of human mind and behavior. They further learn how to help people get over psychological or emotional disorders using the principles of psychology.
Those who focus on forensic psychology will study a number of courses such as:
  • Psychology and Criminal Law 
  • Psychology and Civil Law 
  • Trauma and Family Violence 
  • Forensic Assessment 
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Principles of Neuropsychology
  • Linear and Regression Statistics
Students also focus their elective coursework, externship placements, and research projects on  developing competency in forensic psychology.

Skills for forensic psychologists

Forensic psychologists should have strong observational and analytical skills that would help them collect and draw conclusions. They must also be very patient as dealing with criminals can be challenging.  Communication and interpersonal skills are also essential for these professionals so that they may deal with criminals effectively and find out the facts using a number of techniques such as interviewing and observing.

License requirements

Like other practicing psychologists, forensic psychologists must also have a license to practice. Though the requirements for licensure vary by state, candidates generally need to meet the following requirements to get licensed:
  • A doctorate degree
  • Complete an internship
  • Relevant work experience
  • Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology
Forensic psychologists may also have to participate in continuing education programs in order to keep their license.

Where do forensic psychologists work?

According to the BLS, there were about 160,200 psychologists in the U.S. in 2012. Some of them worked in educational services while others were employed in the healthcare and social assistance sectors. Forensic psychologists generally work in family courts. They offer psychotherapy services and perform child custody evaluations. They may also investigate reports of child abuse and conduct visitation risk assessments.

Opportunities for clinical psychologists

According to the BLS, employment of psychologists including forensic psychologists is projected to grow at the rate of 12%, which is about as fast as the average for all other occupations between the years 2012 and 2022.

How much do forensic psychologists earn?

The median annual pay for forensic psychologist in 2012 was $67,760 (O*NET OnLine). Factors such as job location, experience and area of specialty may help to determine the exact income of these professionals.

What are the pros and cons of a career in forensic psychology?

Pursuing a career in the field of forensic psychology can be a suitable option for those who are interested in helping others and pursuing diverse career paths. Before you opt to take this career path, you must know that it takes a lot of hard work to become a forensic psychologist.  In addition, this occupation can be stressful as you need to deal with criminals and offenders

 

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