Forensic psychology—one of the newest specialties in the burgeoning field of forensics—involves the application of clinical psychology to a judicial setting. The American Psychological Association (APA 2013) reports that forensic psychologists assess the mental health of individuals in a variety of legal contexts such as child custody hearings and competency evaluations for criminal defendants. They not only investigate the mental health of those involved with the criminal justice system, but they also write reports, deliver testimony, provide consultation, design treatment programs, perform research, and educate others.
So how does a person join this discipline on the rise? The APA (2013) writes that while there are master’s degrees in forensic psychology, these professionals typically must have at least a PhD or PsyD to work in the field. It’s also advisable that prospective forensic psychologists graduate from a school accredited by the APA or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) to practice in the US. Additionally, they must have at least two years of supervised experience, one year of which is an APA- or CPA-accredited predoctoral internship. Finally, these practitioners can become board-certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP).
There are also certificate and training options for those employed in criminal justice, mental health, or other relevant occupations who are seeking the tools of forensic psychology without becoming formal forensic psychologists.
Read on to discover what to expect from forensic psychology colleges—both online and more traditional, campus-based program options—as well as to learn about institutional accreditation and professional certification.
Who should attend an online forensic psychology certificate program? The online certificate programs in this field can be ideal for current graduate students seeking targeted instruction in forensic psychology and for people in legal, healthcare, or other occupations which can benefit from this multidisciplinary training. Please note that these programs are not usually clinical counseling programs, but rather offer the fundamentals such as the research methods, ethical considerations, and common mental health conditions in forensic psychology. Prerequisites for online certificate programs can include years of experience, specific coursework (e.g., statistics, psychology), official transcripts with minimum GPA (e.g., >3.0), and a personal statement.
Here is a selection of online certificate programs in forensic psychology:
Concordia University of Saint Paul, Minnesota provides an online certificate in forensic mental health (FMH). This 15-credit program—developed in conjunction with the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS)—has courses such as family violence, PTSD, & trauma; forensic mental health psychopathology; and FMH research methods. Concordia is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Rosemont College in Pennsylvania offers an online graduate certificate in forensic psychology. This 15-credit program includes classes such as trauma studies, victimology, offender treatment, psychopathology, and contemporary issues in forensics. This curricula is designed to prepare people for work in community mental health centers, child welfare agencies, family courts, and government agencies, to name a few.
Who should enroll in an online forensic psychology program? These programs are designed not only to give students the backbone foundation of the discipline—including instruction in criminal assessments, research methods, psychology in the courtroom, and more—but also to prepare students who are looking to become forensic psychologists, a career designation that requires the terminal degree (i.e., a PhD or PsyD). As stated above, there are master of arts (MA) and master of science (MS) degree options, but these are insufficient for board certification through the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP), a specialty division of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Prerequisites to online degree programs include a bachelor’s degree (psychology preferred), completion of specific courses (e.g., social science statistics, psychology), a written personal statement, test scores (e.g., SAT or GRE), letters of recommendation, work experience, and a minimum GPA (e.g., >3.0).
Here is a selection of online degree programs in forensic psychology:
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online master of science (MS) in forensic psychology with instruction in cognitive methods, ethical practice in psychology, and the intersection of law & psychology. This nonprofit school’s program—accredited by the New England Association of School and Colleges (NEASC)—boasts “some of the most affordable tuition rates in the nation” and prepares students for employment through rigorous didactic coursework, seminars, and a capstone project.
Walden University provides an online master of science (MS) in forensic psychology with four distinct specializations: forensic psychology in the community, mental health applications, program planning & evaluation in forensic settings, and psychology & legal systems. Students also have the option to complete the general forensic psychology program with courses such as abnormal behavior, police psychology, and criminal behavior. Please note that this program does not prepare students to become licensed psychology professionals, but rather gives them employment-ready skills in a plurality of forensics settings (e.g., correctional facilities, mental health & substance abuse treatment centers, jails & prisons).
Please note that the prerequisites for these face-to-face programs are similar to those listed above for the online forensic psychology programs.
Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri offers a certificate in forensic psychology with courses such as introduction to criminality, psychology of policing, correctional psychology, juvenile delinquency, and the psychology of deception. This 18-unit program may provide a springboard into graduate study in psychology, sociology, or criminal justice.
Texas State University of San Marcos provides a 15-hour graduate certificate in forensic psychology, ideal for working professionals in law (enforcement or litigation), healthcare, and other areas. With courses such as advanced crime theory, ethics & the criminal justice system, and police problem-solving methodologies, students are taught how to be more effective at bridging the gap between mental health and the law.
Finally, the University of California at Irvine (UCI) Extension is currently developing a legal and forensic psychology program through its School of Social Ecology as of October 2015. Be sure to check back with developments, designed with attorneys, jury consultants, expert witnesses, law enforcement advocates, and case managers in mind.
Fairleigh Dickinson University based in New Jersey offers an accelerated program in forensic psychology which results in bachelor of arts (BA) and master of arts (MA) degrees. This joint program typically takes five years of full-time study to complete, involving coursework in theories of personality, interviewing techniques, and clinical practice in forensic contexts. Prerequisites for this program include achieving at least 1,100 on the GRE and a high school GPA of 3.3 or higher.
The American Psychological Association (APA) provides a comprehensive guide of APA-accredited graduate programs in psychology and law (i.e., forensic psychology). The majority of these advanced master’s, PsyD, and PhD programs are offered in an on-campus, “brick-and-mortar” format.
Here are two featured APA-accredited forensic psychology schools:
Palo Alto University in California offers a clinical PhD in forensic psychology among its seven distinct mental health emphases with coursework in psychopathology & psychodiagnosis, ethics in clinical psychology, and professional standards, in addition to a one-year supervised practicum in a correctional or forensic setting. Palo Alto Unviersity boasts a Forensic Mental Health Student Group—developed in 2010 in conjunction with the Forensic Mental Health Association of California (FMHAC)—as well as a special topics forensic speaker series.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York provides a rich variety of forensic psychology programs at many levels—bachelor of arts (BA), master of arts (MA), accelerated BA/MA, MA, MA/JD, postgraduate certificate, and doctoral (clinical and non-clinical)—which prepare students of differing educational attainment. One standout option is the APA-accredited, 60-credit psychology & law doctoral program combining deep intellectual inquiry at the intersection of psychology research and legal academia. While this program is not intended to prepare licensed psychologists, John Jay also provides a clinical doctoral program which pays thought to the considerations of the criminal justice system in addition to rigorous preparation to become a licensed mental health professional.
Prior to enrolling in any forensic psychology program, students should check the accreditation status of the program and institution. This process typically involves an evaluation of the program, school, faculty, curricula, and student outcomes in order to gauge program effectiveness.
As stated above, the American Psychological Association (APA) accredits clinical psychology master’s and doctoral (Psy D and PhD) programs—including those with forensic psychology as an emphasis—through the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS).
Schools may also have institutional accreditation which applies to the school as a whole. There are six regional accreditation agencies for postsecondary education:
Finally, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers individual professional certification to forensic psychologists in conjunction with the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP). Candidates must be licensed clinical psychologists with doctoral degrees and at least 100 hours of supervised training in forensic psychology, as well as at least 1000 hours of experience in the field. As part of the process, aspiring licensed forensic psychologists undergo a credential review, written examination, oral examination, and a democratic vote by the Board for admittance.