Over the last decades, the field of forensic psychology has evolved from a virtually non-existent field to one that has been sensationalized in countless movies, books, and television programs. While the inner workings of the criminal mind have always been something that has fascinated detectives and civilians alike, only in this century has a profession been developed to explore criminal motives and work to treat offenders effectively: forensic psychology.
What do forensic psychologists do? As expected, it does not look exactly like the dramatic day to day of the profilers and serial killer hunters on television. Responsibilities may vary, but most psychologists in the field help police determine the motives for certain crimes, narrow down a suspect pool, and generally provide deeper insight into the criminal mind in order to assist investigators. Forensic psychologists also help the courts. They help determine whether a suspect is competent enough to stand trial, or whether an inmate is ready for parole. Forensic psychologists may work as part of a law enforcement team, in a jail or prison setting, or as independent consultants. As the understanding of the intersection of mental health and the law grows, so does the field of forensic psychology, and the demand for skilled forensic psychologists remains strong.
To become a forensic psychologist, significant training is required. To earn a psychologist license, educational requirements must be met and new psychologists must perform hundreds of hours of training under the supervision of an experienced psychologist. The path to one’s first job in the field involves dedication and hard work, but can ultimately lead a fulfilling and fascinating career. Keep reading to learn the details of how to become a forensic psychologist.
The outlook for the forensic psychologist career is bright. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) does not specifically track growth data for the forensic specialty, they do predict that the demand for all psychologists will grow 3 percent between 2019 and 2029. That rate of growth is roughly the same expected growth among all occupations nationally during the same period, which is 4 percent.
According to Psychology Today, forensic psychology is a growing field. However, in order to take advantage of the increased demand, psychologists must be clinically competent with a practice based firmly in scientific theory.
The BLS (May 2019) also notes that the median salary for all psychologists is $80,370 per year with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning less than $45,380 and the highest-paid 10 percent earning more than $132,070.
Becoming a clinical psychologist, whether in the forensic specialty or otherwise, requires a great deal of training as well as government licensure to practice. The requirements for licensure vary from state to state. Typically, psychologists must earn a minimum of a doctoral-level degree either in the form of a PhD or a PsyD and complete a set number of supervised training hours in practice before they are able to practice on their own.
Those pursuing the forensic specialty may ultimately choose to become board certified through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Although not required by law, this certification is often essential in establishing expertise in order to testify in court.
For those seeking professional board certification in the field, the ABPP recommends seeking out a mentor who has gone through the process prior to beginning the application.
In order to become a psychologist, a student must first earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or another behavioral science, followed by a master’s or doctoral degree. Most forensic psychologists opt for a doctorate degree in forensic psychology, as that often affords them a wider range of potential employment possibilities. The following are the most common steps taken to begin this career. Note that the exact order of the following steps, as well as some specifics, such as how many hours of supervised practice, are necessary, will depend on where the psychologist intends to practice.
Understanably, the field of psychology is heavily regulated by the government. This means that in order to become a forensic psychologist, there is a long road of education and training that must be completed. A high school graduate can expect to spend at least six more years in school (usually eight) in addition to extensive supervised training hours, which may or may not be paid positions. This is truly a career for those who are dedicated.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).