How To Become A Forensic Psychologist
A forensic psychologist enlightens law enforcement authorities, lawyers and judges about the psychological issues that need to be considered in a particular case. You will be profiling criminals and aiding authorities in narrowing down the list of potential suspects. You will also be helping members of the legal system understand the reasons behind the commission of a crime.
As a forensic psychologist, you could be working with either the prosecution or the defense in civil or criminal cases. In civil cases, you could be asked to answer psychological questions involving personal injury cases, child custody and workers compensation. For criminal cases, you will be called upon to determine if the accused is sane at the time when the crime was committed or if a witness is psychologically competent to go on trial. You could also be called upon to testify in court as an expert witness.
Your work will encompass responsibilities that are beyond the courtroom. For example, you will be working with those who are already in prison and conducting regular assessments to determine if they are ready to be released to the community or if a rehabilitation program has succeeded in reforming them.
You will also be developing appropriate intervention programs to address such issues as anger management and substance abuse that are faced by inmates. You will also be undertaking research to determine the effects of bullying in prisons and other factors that impact the lives of prisoners.
Since you are considered an expert in your field, you could be invited to conduct trainings and seminars to members of a police department’s forensic staff. You will be talking with them about how to effectively and safely deal with such situations as hostage-takings and other crises. Since law enforcement can be a mentally and physically dangerous job, you could also be called upon to provide lectures on how police personnel can handle the stresses that come with the profession.
To succeed as a forensic psychologist, you need to be patient and resilient. A greater portion of your time will be spent with offenders who may not welcome the fact that you are there to “read” their minds. If you will be working in prisons, you will have to get used to procedures that are unique in such settings, such as searches made when entering in these institutions as well as the danger that you could possibly be placed in when doing evaluations with notorious criminals.
It is a stressful job that can also be dangerous at times so you’ll have to really be emotionally, mentally and physically ready if you want to become a forensic psychologist.
Why Become A Forensic Psychologist
One reason to become a forensic psychologist is the fact that it enables individuals who are really intent on studying the connection between psychology and law to use their expertise in preventing crime and helping put a perpetrator behind bars. There are times when law enforcement only has circumstantial evidence to go on and forensic psychologists are able to enlighten them on the motive behind a criminal’s actions. This will even help them find solid evidence to convict a suspect.
This is also an excellent career fit for those individuals who want a more challenging clinical practice. On the practical side, there are a couple of reasons why this is a career path worth pursuing: First, there are a lot of opportunities for work for those who are trained in this career since not many clinical psychologists prefer not to specialize in this area. Second, it also pays a decent salary.
Forensic Psychologist Work Environment
Forensic psychologists work with government agencies such as police departments and other law enforcement settings. They may also work in hospitals or in agencies that provide social services. Some forensic psychologists are also self-employed. They typically work fulltime during regular hours although there may be cases when they have to extend their hours to be able to complete reports or finish their assessments.
Forensic psychologists who have their own private practice have more flexibility in their work hours although they may need to work during evenings or weekends to accommodate some clients. Travel may be involved as the psychologist goes to prisons to assess or provide court-mandated therapy to clients.
Forensic Psychologist Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not gather salary data specifically for forensic psychologists. The Occupational Employment and Wages report of the agency does have salary data for three categories of psychologists:
- Clinical, counseling and school psychologists
- Industrial-organizational psychologists
- Psychologists, all other
The mean annual wage of clinical, counseling and school psychologists is $72,710 while that of industrial-organizational psychologists is $87,960. For all other psychologists, where forensic psychologists can be categorized in, the mean annual wage is $88,400.
Forensic Psychologist Career Outlook
The employment rate for psychologists in general is expected to be positive in the next few years. In general, the job outlook for psychologists is projected to be at 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is about the same as the national average for all job types. For industrial-organizational psychologists, the employment rate is set at 53 percent in the same time period. For all other psychologists where forensic psychologists can be grouped in, the employment rate is set at 11 percent.
Forensic psychologists will be needed to help those who are already committed inside prisons and penitentiaries. Their expertise will also be needed to help law enforcement authorities catch the guilty as well as aid the legal system in dispensing justice properly.
Forensic Psychologist Degree
Forensic psychologists begin their journey towards this career with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Those who already know that they are going to be focusing on forensic psychology have a focus on criminal justice and criminology to their undergraduate psychology course. A few schools do offer a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology specifically so this is one program that will also provide the appropriate preparation for this career.
However, a bachelor’s degree is not going to be sufficient. They must also undertake a master’s degree and a doctoral degree to be able to practice as a forensic psychologist. Some courses have a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program which take longer to complete. A master’s degree is often a requirement for entry into a doctoral degree program. However, there are other programs that accept those who with only a bachelor’s degree.
After obtaining a doctoral degree, graduates must first pass the Exam for Professional Practice in Psychology and comply with all other requirements in their state to become licensed as forensic psychologists. Certification is not mandatory but it is generally recommended as this will inform employers that a person is competent in the field. The American Board of Forensic Psychologists works together with the American Board of Professional Psychology to provide certification for forensic psychologists.