We’re a nation of mystery-lovers. The literary genre remains strong and constant from old-timey deductive sleuths like Sherlock Holmes to pulp detective paperbacks to newer thrillers set in the digital age. We also seem perpetually intrigued by why people act the way they do, especially those who commit violent crimes. Short of a manifesto, a clear confession, or a public statement, most criminals rarely share their motivation, which leads to all sorts of speculation about the possible role of nature vs. nurture; the purported failure of schools, religious institutions, or government systems; or alleged influences of everything from video games to rock music.
There’s one career path in particular for people to learn about human motivations and share their professional opinion: the forensic psychologist. This mental health professional plays an important role in the modern justice system. They may be asked critical questions about a suspect’s mental health, which can affect whether they understand the charges against them and can stand trial or need to be institutionalized. They can analyze family dynamics in family court and make recommendations on whether a parent is fit or unfit. They may determine whether someone truly has post-traumatic stress disorder, create threat assessments, develop and perform appropriate testing, or serve as expert witnesses in court cases.
Overall, the conclusions of professional forensic psychologists carry significant weight and responsibility, as they can permanently affect lives of individuals, families and even entire communities. That’s why a high level of academic knowledge and professional experience is required to become a forensic psychologist. This includes undergraduate- and graduate-level degrees (e.g., a PhD or PsyD) from programs accredited by the American Psychology Association, and sitting for several comprehensive licensing exams. Then, candidates are encouraged to complete at least 1,000 hours of post-doctoral work before receiving full forensic credentials. Beyond being just a step in an extensive process, doctorate programs in psychology can provide a blend of advanced theory, leadership skill-building, and the opportunity for research. Students learn about analytic methods and criminal justice trends, as well.
In the past, graduate education in forensic psychology was limited to on-campus programs. These days, however, there is a number of reputable online forensic psychology doctorate degrees as well, which can accommodate the schedules of working parents, people who live far away from campuses, and other people with time constraints.
A doctorate can open a variety of career opportunities, including roles as faculty members, psychotherapists, consultants, researchers, or analysts for local, state or national government entities or law enforcement.
Discover what to expect from an online forensic psychology doctorate, including the expected coursework and three exceptional professors.
Please note that while some of these programs aren’t strictly in forensic psychology, online psychology doctorate students can focus their clinical research or projects in that area with permission.
CalSouthern’s School of Behavioral Science prepares students for a variety of practice options, including all the requirements for a clinical psychology license in California. Students spend much of the 66-credit online program focusing on a doctoral project, which could include an action-research project; a clinical application or analysis on a certain topic; or a discussion about a current topic that can provide guidance. Students can elect to complete this work in the forensic subfield. The general program focuses on counseling and therapy, and less about research and statistics.
This online doctor of psychology program includes six concentrations, and those interested in the forensic field can consider a focus in criminology and justice studies. This concentration discusses the efficiencies of different criminal organizations and institutions. The 62-credit program teaches modern mental and emotional health topics, including a history of psychology and different research and diagnosis methods. Students also learn about different crime methods based on social or economic conditions, and how to assess rehabilitation efforts. Doctoral students must create a dissertation summarizing a current topic. Completing the program won’t automatically qualify a student for a license in their particular state; additional learning may be necessary.
University of the Cumberlands (Hybrid)
The school’s blended online/on-site doctoral program is designed to prepare students to work with a variety of diverse populations, including underserved members of the community. The 77-credit curriculum includes online courses and accelerated on-campus courses on weekends, plus a doctoral internship. Students receive theoretical and practical information about modern psychology, including ethics and laws. The school’s clinical psychology program also maintains a clinic where doctoral students can work directly with community members and offer psychotherapy, testing and evaluations.
The doctor of psychology program through the Harold Abel School of Psychology provides clinical tools for people interested in research, education, psychotherapy, counseling and teaching, whether someone is entering with a master’s or a bachelor’s degree. It also prepares students to seek licensing as a clinical psychologist, using APA-approved methods (but not APA-accredited). The program is mostly online but students are required to attend at least one in-residence weekend and one year-in-residence extended seminar. Within the general PsyD program, there are a variety of courses that can be useful to those seeking forensic-based knowledge, including biological basis of behavior; psychopharmacology and foundations of addiction and addictive behavior. Depending on someone’s time commitment, students can pay one fee per quarter and can take as many or as few classes in that time period, or they can follow a certain schedule that includes weekly online discussions.
Walden University offers an online PhD in forensic psychology, which accepts up to 53 transfer credits from qualifying academic work. In addition to a general track, the program is offered in several specialization tracks, including criminal justice (self-designed), crisis leadership management, crisis response, crisis leadership management, legal issues in forensic psychology, victimology, and a self-designed option. The degree requires 110 quarter-credits in areas such as abnormal behavior, criminal behavior, legal issues and social change in forensic psychology, and the psychological aspects of violent crime, among other areas. Additionally, students need to complete a dissertation and four four-day residencies.
Candidates for PsyD programs can approach from two directions: having only a master’s degree, or having a master’ degree and a standard PhD (e.g., if a medical professional wants to expand their skills in the psychology realm). Other academic or professional requirements vary by institution, but generally these can include:
University of the Rockies
Dr. Greenberg specializes in the working of the brain and has a background in neuroscience and psychology. He’s part of the lead faculty at University of the Rockies and heads the master’s in human development, and also teaches online programs at other colleges. His areas of function include research, statistics, course design and teaching ways to boost creativity, efficiency and organizational efforts. He also studied brain function at the University of San Diego, using MRI tools to see the mechanics of Parkinson’s disease on the brain and body.
University of the Cumberlands
Dr. Schmuldt has been part of the UOC psychology faculty for four years. She’s an adjunct professor who specializes in psychology, mental health counseling, student affairs and program development. Her PhD from the University of Florida focused on counselor education and supervision. She previously studied and taught psychology topics in Illinois.
California Southern University
Amanda Tate is the faculty mentor for the school’s behavioral sciences program, an internal term for instructors there who work closely with students to encourage them to achieve. She specializes in topics such as cultural diversity, at-risk case management, bio-psycho-social assessments and adolescent counseling. She’s also a social worker, and has worked with families and children in a variety of settings from elementary schools to hospitals. Ms. Tate has also developed training materials for students seeking social work fields and intervention plans at high schools. She graduated with a master’s in social work from California State University in Bakersfield and a bachelor’s in social work from San Diego State University.
MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ)
Post-Master's Certificate - CJ Behavior Analysis