If you’re interested in a career that involves helping law enforcement solve crimes, forensic psychology may be the perfect choice for you. This field combines psychological techniques with legal knowledge to provide investigative support and expert testimony in criminal cases. But what does a day in the life of a forensic psychologist look like? And what skills do you need to succeed in this career? Keep reading to find out.
1. What Is Forensic Psychology?
The word ‘forensic’ (originating from the Latin forensis) means ‘relating to the forum or public discussion.’ Therefore, forensic psychology is that branch of psychology that deals with legal processes behaviors. Forensic psychologists work in government, academic, and private institutions, maintaining professional associations internationally under the International Association of Forensic Psychologists (IAFP).
Forensic psychology is used to understand and predict the behavior of individuals involved in legal processes to assist judges, lawyers, and juries. It can also understand how people behave in various other settings, such as workplaces or hospitals. The specific nature of forensic psychology is that it focuses on applying psychological science to public safety, the law, and legal processes.
2. What Are Forensic Psychologists?
Forensic psychologists work in various industries to understand criminal behavior’s causes, nature, and management. They can specialize in correctional psychology, police psychology, civil psychology, clinical psychology, child protection, and the safety of vulnerable populations.
Forensic psychologists can also work in academic institutions or universities to teach students interested in entering this practice field. They can also specialize within larger organizations such as police forces across Australia, often working closely with local detectives to provide psychological expertise.
3. Forensic Psychologist Entry Paths
Entry to the profession of forensic psychology can be gained by following one or more of these three approaches:
1. Entry via the Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) – 4 years full-time study at an accredited university.
2. Entry via Graduate Certificate in Applied Forensic Practice – 1-year full-time study at an accredited university.
3. Entry via Master of Forensic Practice – 2 years full-time study at an accredited university, with a minimum of one year’s work experience in the field completed before enrollment.
Entry via Graduate Certificate in Applied Forensic Practice is the fastest route into the profession. The course provides for career development professional practice and meets industry requirements.
Graduate certificates include core course modules to provide students with the necessary skill to understand psychological research methods, human behavior, and interpretation of findings. They also comprise practical work placements in community and criminal justice settings to provide students with direct experience working in the field.
Graduate certificates also include advanced course modules that allow students to specialize in a specific area, such as police psychology or forensic mental health counseling.
4. What Skills Are Needed to Become a Forensic Psychologist?
Forensic psychology is a niche in psychology, so it has a unique set of skills compared to other areas. A forensic psychologist must understand the legal system research techniques and present reports based on psychological science. Skills needed include:
1. Understanding the Legal System
Forensic psychologists have to understand the laws of evidence and criminal proceedings, so they can work within these confines to ensure that their results are within the bounds of both law and science. They need this understanding to give an expert opinion on an event based on sound scientific knowledge. Forensic psychology is based on psychological research, and forensic psychologists need to read and understand it, although further training in this area is not required.
2. Ability to Conduct Research
Forensic psychology is a branch of psychology that conducts scientific research, meaning forensic psychologists must have the ability to create experiments and analyze the results for themselves. It also means they have to understand statistics and present it scientifically.
3. Ability to Communicate
Forensic psychologists must communicate their theories and research findings to various people, including legal professionals, investigators, judges, and juries.
This means they have excellent verbal communication skills and can write reports and articles for journals and other publications.
4. Flexibility and Open-Mindedness
Forensic psychology is a developing area of psychological science, which means that the job opportunities are diverse. Forensic psychologists work in many fields, including law enforcement, courts, probation services, prisons, schools, and businesses. Because of this flexibility, forensic psychologists can find themselves in many different settings and situations, so they need to adapt their methods accordingly. It is also helpful to be open-minded when faced with the realities of working within law enforcement or correctional systems, as these can bring new experiences that may not always be pleasant.
5. Ability to Conduct Interviews
Forensic psychologists must conduct compelling interviews with witnesses, victims, and suspects. This means that they need excellent verbal communication skills and an ability to read people’s body language effectively to see if someone is lying or perhaps does not want to talk about something. It also means forensic psychologists have to be good at reading between the lines and seeing a deeper meaning in people’s communications.
6. Ability to Make Practical Decisions
Forensic psychologists must be able to make sound decisions that fall within the legal guidelines of their country, meaning they need excellent judgment skills. This also means that forensic psychologists have to identify when an issue may be outside the remit of their expertise to refer to an expert in that particular field.
7. Ability to Work Independently
Forensic psychologists are often required to work alone on a case or research project. Most forensic psychology roles are conducted within law enforcement agencies with strict guidelines about how the psychologist and suspect interact. This means that forensic psychologists need to motivate themselves and work without constant supervision.
5. What Is the Process of Becoming a Forensic Psychologist?
To become a forensic psychologist, you usually need to follow five steps:
1. Undergraduate degree in Psychology – Entry-level positions may not require a degree. Still, at least an undergraduate minor or certificate in psychology can be helpful if you want to advance later on in your career.
2. Master’s degree in Psychology – Forensic psychology is a heavily research-based field of study. A master’s or doctoral program can help you get the training needed to conduct scientific research.
3. Internship – Completing an internship is necessary to gain practical experience, develop relationships with potential employers, and earn money while doing it.
4. Bachelor’s degree in Law – Most forensic psychologists also hold a law degree, which helps them understand the legal system and laws that affect their work even more than psychology alone.
5. Licensing or certification – Forensic psychologists need to be licensed or certified by the state where they live; otherwise, they cannot legally practice.
6. What Is the Average Salary of a Forensic Psychologist?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that in 2009, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists made an average annual salary of $68,020. However, this figure can vary wildly depending on location, degree level, and experience.
For example, the BLS estimated that in 2009 criminal investigators earned an average of $53,610 per year. However, this is a comprehensive job title, and salaries can range from as little as $23,780 to more than $95,000, according to indeed.com.
7. How Long Does it Take to Become a Forensic Psychologist?
The amount of time it takes to become a forensic psychologist varies widely depending on what degree level you choose. For example, you can earn an undergraduate degree in psychology and work as a psychology assistant the same year. However, if you wish to pursue a master‘s or doctoral program, this will take longer.
8. The Job Outlook for a Forensic Psychologist
The job outlook for a forensic psychologist is auspicious. The field is increasing, and there is a high demand for qualified professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that clinical, counseling, and school psychologists will see a 30% increase in jobs between 2008 and 2018.
In addition, forensic psychologists usually have a lot of job flexibility as they can choose to work in many different areas, including hospitals, schools, private practice, and even law enforcement agencies.
9. Pros and Cons of Being a Forensic Psychologist
The Pros of being a Forensic Psychologist Include
- Interesting and challenging work
- Ability to make a positive impact on society
- Satisfaction of helping people and communities solve problems
- Flexible schedule as some forensic psychologists work part-time or set their hours
- The ability to choose your cases and specialize in certain areas of forensic psychology
- Ability to find a job in almost any location you choose
The Cons of being a Forensic Psychologist Include
- Stressful because your work can have dire consequences for other people, especially working with criminals or victims of crime
- Low salary compared to similar professions such as clinical psychologists
- Strict requirements for licensing or certification can make it challenging to find employment
- Challenging to advance in your career because forensic psychology is still a new field, and not many senior forensic psychologists are retiring due to the recession, which decreases opportunities for advancement
- Difficult work conditions as you must deal with all types of people
- Unclear career path because of the rapidly changing nature of this profession and lack of research and data about forensic psychology specifically
- Lack of formalized post-secondary training programs for forensic psychologists
- Competition from other professionals such as clinical or counseling psychologists, psychiatrists, and licensed professional counselors
10. Best Colleges to Study Forensic Psychologists
If you are interested in studying forensic psychology, you will be happy to know that many excellent colleges and universities offer degree programs in this area.
Below is a list of the five best colleges for forensic psychology, based on tuition costs, student satisfaction, and program offerings.
So whether you are just starting your education or looking to further your knowledge in this field, these schools will provide you with the best possible experience.
- John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Michigan State University
- John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Iowa State University
- Arcadia University
The forensic psychology career path offers many opportunities for growth and development. If you are interested in helping law enforcement officials solve crimes or working with criminal offenders to rehabilitate them, this may be the perfect career for you. Forensic psychology is constantly growing, so there are many opportunities for specialization and advancement. With the proper education and experience, a career in forensic psychology can be both rewarding and lucrative.