There are many reasons to choose to pursue a particular course of education, but one of the driving factors for most students is to find a rewarding career. Of course, even a specialized degree can have many different possible career paths. This is certainly the case with forensic psychology degrees. Not only can careers differ for those that earn an undergraduate degree and those who pursue graduate studies, but even within those categories, different possibilities exist.
Keep reading to learn what type of career opportunities exist for students who earn a degree in forensic psychology.
While an undergraduate degree in forensic psychology can open many career doors, it is important to recognize that undergraduate studies do not qualify graduates to provide professional counseling services or evaluations. Due to strict government regulation of the psychology profession, counselors must have a graduate level degree and participate in a certain number of supervised clinical hours.
That being said, there are still relevant careers for students who have earned a bachelor of science (BS) in forensic psychology.
A victim advocate can play an important role in the criminal justice process. These individuals work closely with crime victims to help shepherd them through the legal system with a minimal amount of trauma. The exact duties of a victim advocate will depend on what type of crime the victim has experienced, but may include such things as:
Generally speaking, victim advocates do not need to be certified, but for those that wish to advance in the career, certification through the National Organization for Victim Assistance is an option.
Working as a court liaison officer is another way that graduates of a bachelor’s degree program in forensic psychology can participate in the criminal justice system. By acting as a go-between for criminal courts and local police department, court liasons play an important role. Court liaisons are not sworn police officers, but do work closely with law enforcement. These officers may perform any number of administrative tasks for the court, including reviewing paperwork or registering sex offenders.
A bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology can be an important stepping stone to a career as a law enforcement officer. Although most police departments do not require a bachelor’s degree in order to apply to the police academy, the foundation that a forensic psychology degree can provide may be beneficial during the application and initial training process, and may assist new officers in more quickly ascending to higher ranks like detective.
For those that do not want to go to the police academy and start walking a beat, probation officer is another interesting career path. These individuals work with offenders who have recently been released from jail to ensure that they are adequately employed and housed so that they do not reoffend. The knowledge of both crimial justice and psychology can be extremely helpful in dealing with these potentially volatile situations.
When you are able to pursue a graduate level education in forensic psychology, more career options open up. However, it is important to note that even with a master’s degree, graduates are not eligible for licensing as psychologists and therefore are not able to treat patients in a clinical setting. Following are some of the career options available to those holding a master of science (MS) degree in forensic psychology.
A jury consultant works with legal teams in order to determine how to seat the best jury for that team’s desired outcome as well as how to proceed with the case when the jury has been chosen. Forensic psychologists can use their knowledge of criminal justice as well as human behavior to help select desirable jurors based on the available information.
Although a master’s degree does not qualify graduates to become a licensed psychologist, most states have a counseling license program for which they are eligible. Licensed counselors are able to provide counseling in a variety of environments, including group homes, substance abuse treatment centers, and jails.
Juveniles who enter the criminal justice system are at extremely high risk for recidivism and have often been the victims of crimes — from neglect to physical and sexual abuse — themselves. This makes them prime for counseling from a licensed counselor.
Many master’s level programs in forensic psychology include a research element, giving students an opportunity to learn how to conduct psychological research and analyze data. Master’s graduates can go on to assist licensed psychologists in research in the forensic field.
With a doctoral degree and the training hours required by the state where they reside, psychology graduates are eligible for licensing. This opens up many more career possibilities involving psychology examination and treatment as well as careers in academia. Here it is important to note that students may pursue either a doctor of psychology (PsyD) or doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree. Both allow graduates to become licensed psychologists with PsyD programs focused more on clinical treatment while PhD programs focus more on research and teaching.
Many students who pursue a graduate degree in forensic psychology do so with the ultimate goal of becoming a forensic psychologist. While a forensic psychologist can fill a number of roles, they often work as consultants for law enforcement agencies. Those that work with the FBI may profile criminals while for other agencies, they may evaluate offenders or even work with the officers themselves.
Forensic psychologists can also work directly in a jail setting, counseling offenders for release or as a way to help them cope with the stress of incarceration, as well as treating any underlying mental health issues.
Forensic psychologists are often called as expert witnesses in criminal trials and indeed some make this process an entire career. An expert witness in this context can answer speculative questions about the accused’s state of mind, can refer to professional psychological literature and studies, and may be able to give juries a better picture of how psychology plays a role in a particular crime.
For those that graduate with an advanced degree in forensic psychology academia is another option. This career is more suited to those that earn a PhD rather than a PsyD. Professors may teach undergraduate or graduate level courses while also maintaining a research practice, depending on the university. This can be a great way to spread a passion for forensic psychology and influence the next generation of practitioners.
Those with doctoral degrees who want to expand the world’s understanding of criminal minds may choose to focus their careers on research, conducting clinical studies and writing papers for publication. This career can go hand-in-hand with a teaching career, or can be a separate pursuit. This is another option that is better suited to those with a PhD in forensic psychology.