What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?
The field of forensic psychology is becoming one of the most popular fields in psychology. There has been a huge increase in the number of psychology students that are showing a huge interest in forensic psychology. However, many still really are not totally sure of what they actually need to do to go after a career in forensic psychology. If you have a strong interest in criminal justice and the law along with psychology you could find this to be something that interests you.
How Do You Get Started?
When it comes to forensic psychology how do you get started? What courses do you need to study? How do you find a job in this field, and what exactly does a forensic psychologist do?
To start with, let’s answer the top and most basic question.
What is Forensic Psychology?
According to the “American Psychological Association” the formal definition of forensic psychology is:
“Forensic psychology is the professional practice for psychologists in areas of counseling psychology, clinical psychology, school psychology, and neuropsychology and are engaged on a regular basis as experts and provide professional expertise for the judicial system.”
Simply put, forensic psychology is a field of psychology that involves applying one’s learned psychology skills to criminal investigations and other parts of law enforcement. A forensic psychologist will utilize their training and knowledge of the principles of psychology and then use this to try and understand the different aspects of the legal and justice system. Sometimes this can involve conducting evaluations of those in the court system, working with victims of crimes, evaluating the witnesses, and can even provide testimony in both criminal and civil trials.
Forensic psychology is also the fastest growing psychological disciplines within the field of psychology and it continues to grow every year.
Why Is It Such a Fast Growing Career?
So why is there such a rapid growth in forensic psychology? One of the major reasons it has grown in popularity is because of how it has been sensationalized in movies and on television. However, the portrayals in movies and television are not always as accurate as they could be.
Quite often a forensic psychologist is depicted as a criminal profiler who can almost psychically figure out the next move of a killer. But, in reality, a forensic psychologist practice their psychology as a science while working within civil courts and the criminal justice system. There’s nothing magical about the job. Some of them will work hands on as criminal investigators out in the field but even fewer will be engaged in actually hunting down the criminals.
Then what do they actually do?
Duties of Forensic Psychologists
A forensic psychologist will often be involved in civil and criminal matters. Here are just a few examples of what their duties might be:
- Custody battles
- Evaluation of insurance claims
- Offer testimony in criminal cases and civil lawsuits
- Give psychotherapy services for family courts
- Handle child custody evaluations
- Child abuse investigations
- Handle visitation risk assessments
Those who work in civil court will often be asked to assess competency, offer second opinions, and even provide psychotherapy to victims of crimes. Those who work in criminal courts will often conduct evaluations of the mental competency of a victim, criminal, or witness. They will also work with child witnesses and give assessments of both juvenile and adult criminals.
How Much Does a Forensic Psychologist Earn?
Salaries for forensic psychology will range greatly and will depend on the area of employment, area, and education. According to payscale.com the average salary in England is usually around £32,000. However there is a huge range all depending on the degree one has whether it’s a BA, MA or a Ph.D. The range can be £14,707 (entry level) to £119,195 a year.
What Kind of Degree is Required?
At this point in time, there really isn’t a required training model for anyone who wants to become a forensic psychologist. Most, however, require that one have a doctoral degree in the field of psychology. This generally is in counseling or clinical psychology. Most who go into this field of work generally do have either a Ph.D. or a PsyD in clinical before they earn some sort of postdoctoral specialization and training in forensics.
There are a few universities that actually do offer degrees that are focused on forensic psychology and combine courses in both law and psychology. This kind of degree will often take five to seven years of graduate work in order to complete. Understand, that admission to a doctoral program is extremely competitive.
There has been a rise of online master’s programs that focus on forensic psychology and a lot of these programs often only require two years of graduate study and are becoming a very popular option for those who are highly interested in this field of study.
Is a Career in Forensic Psychology Right for You?
Before deciding on going into forensic psychology there are several things you need to consider. First is do you truly enjoy working with people? Most forensic psychologist will work with a full team of professionals as well as working with criminals and victims. Another question to ask yourself is whether you really love problems that are challenging. Most of the situations that a forensic psychologist come across are where people are dealing with problems that just can’t be quickly or easily solved.
Along with the above questions, most experts suggest that a forensic psychologist have a very solid knowledge of the law and understanding of how the field of psychology intersects with the law and how the two interact. They also suggest that they have special training in clinical forensic psychology with a background in different ethical issues.
If you are thinking of this field of work understand that a forensic psychologist needs a ton of patience, commitment and needs to be creative. Many people who have a strong interest in psychology and law find that forensic psychology is their ideal career path to take.
Pros and Cons of Forensic Psychology
Just like with any type of career there are going to be positives and negatives. Before you truly commit to this type of career choice, you really need to take some time to think about the upsides and the downsides of how this type of career can influence your life.
A Few Pros
- Gives you the opportunity to help other people
- Offers a variety of career paths such as consulting, government work, education, civil and criminal court work
- Challenging but highly rewarding career
A Few Cons
- Requires time commitment of 5 to 7 years of graduate study alone
- Pay seems low considering the amount of work and education that is required
- Stressful, frustrating, and often burnout occurs
Even though forensic psychology isn’t quite like how it’s portrayed in movies and on television, it still can be a very rewarding, exciting, and challenging career option. One of the most appealing things about being a forensic psychologist is that it tends to offer continual sources of interesting and new experiences and challenges. One day they might evaluate a witness and the next day offer up testimony in court. If you really have a strong interest in both law and the field of psychology, then becoming a forensic psychologist could be the best career choice for you.