Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology Degree

Ever find yourself reading a good murder mystery, captivated by the ability of law enforcement to profile and then catch the killer? Are you a fan of shows like CSI or Criminal Minds? Do you ever fancy yourself as being the person who uses your mind and the knowledge of human behavior to bring a criminal to justice? If so, then a career in forensic psychology is right for you. 

What is a Forensic Psychologist?

With the popularity of shows like CSI, Criminal Minds and even Law and Order, the field of forensic psychology has gained quite a bit of popularity over the last decade. However, TV shows and movies that depict the glamour of the job often are inaccurate in their portrayal. Real-life forensic psychologists use their training in psychology as part of the criminal justice system. 

Not nearly as exciting as the roles portrayed on television and the movies, forensic psychologists often find themselves mired in custody disputes and other lawsuits. Many of them work in family court, where they perform child custody evaluations, investigate child abuse reports and administer psychotherapy services to clients. For those who work in a civil court setting, they often find themselves assessing the competency of a defendant on trial for various crimes or providing therapy services to victims of crime. 

While not as glamorous as the media makes it out to be, forensic psychologists still have a very interesting and valuable job within society. It is the primary role of a forensic psychologist to apply scientific knowledge in relation to the law. They analyze evidence and can act as expert witnesses during legal proceedings. Their knowledge and participation in the legal justice system helps to bring many criminals to justice, making it a very important component of the justice system. 

Required Education

 As with other subsets of the field of psychology, there are a variety of degree options for forensic psychology – each providing different career options and salaries. 

  • Bachelor’s Degree – An undergraduate degree in forensic psychology, it provides students with a combination of the practices and ideology behind psychology with those of the criminal justice system. Ethical issues, scientific methods and research standards are among the issues students can expect to complete as part of this degree program. An undergraduate degree allows its holder to work in entry-level jobs within the field, such as a correctional counselor in a prison, a juvenile corrections officer or a probation counselor. 
  • Master’s Degree – As with most subsets of the field of psychology, a graduate degree will provide more job options and a higher salary. Students who are working toward a graduate degree also will delve deeper into the world of psychology by concentrating on the practice of understanding people and their behaviors/actions. They also will be expected to learn more about the criminal justice system and its proceedings. Students can expect to spend two to three additional years in school to earn a master’s degree. 
  • Doctorate Degree – The only way to become a licensed forensic psychologist, therefore being able to legally practice as such, is to earn a doctorate degree. In addition to being able to practice as a forensic psychologist, a doctoral degree also allows the holder to work in the area of research and development. To complete a doctorate degree program, candidates are required to serve in an internship role, as well as to write a dissertation based on original research conducted.

Many programs offer both online components and traditional program settings for earning this kind of degree. However, the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) recommends choosing an accredited college or university for your studies. 

Licensing requirements per state vary, so upon the completion of a doctorate degree, it is best to research your intended state of practice to determine its requirements. A guide to help with this process is available on the ABFP’s website. 

Future Jobs Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median annual salary for a psychologist with a four-year degree is $68,640. Demand for trained psychologists is expected to increase over the next eight years by 22 to 28 percent, depending on the specialty practiced. Those who have earned a doctorate degree in applied psychology, as well as those who possess a doctorate degree in school psychology, will be in the highest demand over the next decade. 

Article by Shari Berg,

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