Skip to main content
Select Source:

Degrees and Careers for Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychology is a subspecialty of psychology that applies the principles of knowledge, theory, competencies and theory to the legal and criminal justice system. A forensic psychologist assists courts and physicians in determining the mental state and other aspects of defendants suspected or convicted of crimes for a trial and fair sentencing. They may assist in trial consulting, assessing witnesses or defendants or providing assessments in cases of child custody, sexual harassment, malingering or injury assessment. Experts in this area have the ominous obligations of investigating and determining why and how to prevent certain types of people from committing crimes.

Forensic Psychologist Degree Programs

You can choose from a variety of forensic psychologist degrees and careers. Some of the more traditional degrees are a Master of Arts in Counseling with an emphasis in Forensic Psychology, a Master of Arts in Criminal and Investigative Psychology, or a Psy.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology. Career options and other educational requirements include:

  • Career Options: Forensic psychology encompasses areas of conventional alternatives of criminal justice, such as academic discipline, law enforcement and corrections. Research is the exclusive focus for many forensic psychologists. This may include studying the detailed assessment of eyewitness testimony or determining how to better interrogation methods. Public policy is another popular area of interest for forensic psychologists. This line work requires forensic psychologists to help design prison systems and other correctional facilities.
  • Education Overview: In general, those who are pursuing forensic psychology careers should make sure that they focus their education on psychology, forensics and criminology. There is a broad array of methods to pursue this area of training. First, a student can earn a bachelor's degree in psychology with a focus on criminal justice or criminology. Alternatively, a student can obtain a bachelor's degree in criminology or criminal with a focus on psychology. Some courses that a hopeful forensic psychologist might take may include abnormal psychology, forensics and the psychology of deviance.

While a bachelor's degree is required to work toward a forensic psychology career, a graduate degree is necessary to work in the field. Becoming a forensic psychologist requires at least a master's degree in psychology. However, completion of a Psy.D. or Ph.D. degree in psychology can improve salary and employment possibilities.

Online Forensic Psychologist Degree Programs

Online degree programs in forensic psychology explore behavioral and social science and the relationships between the criminal justice system and psychology. Students interested in criminal behavior and human development may be an ideal fit for a career in forensic psychology. Forensic psychology online degrees are available in related disciplines are available at the following levels:

  • Associate’s Degree
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Master’s Degree
  • D. Degree

For top professional and educational results, prospective online forensic psychology students should explore programs offered by accredited schools.

To become a forensic psychologist, it is beneficial to have a minor in law. Some forensic psychologists have doctorates in both psychology and law. Because the application of forensic psychology deals specifically with how psychology works with the law, many jobs require varying levels of legal studies. Traditional full programs include:

  • Certificate in Criminal Justice
  • Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice
  • Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice
  • D. Degree in Criminal Justice
  • D. Degree in Criminal Justice

This is a relatively new facet of psychology, and forensic psychologists are encouraged to participate in continuing education programs throughout their careers.

Career Outlook and Salary Potential

Graduates may seek diverse professional roles in social work, clinical work, criminal justice, or law enforcement. There are a several tracks a forensic psychologist may follow. A forensic psychologist counsels abuse and rape victims in advance of, during and following court trials. They also provide support with the stress of reliving a crime when the victims have to testify. Occasionally, forensic psychologists testify as expert witnesses to explain to a judge and jury the effects that the crime had on the victim.

A forensic psychologist works with those charged with crimes to assess the individual who was arrested. The psychologists discuss the competency levels of the accused. The forensic psychologist usually concludes if the accused has a definite perception of right and wrong, which will result in allowing them to stand trial or not. Alternately, they may make a recommendation to a judge that the accused be transferred to an institution for therapy preceding or in place of a trial. These psychologists also provide rehabilitative therapy for people convicted of crimes if it is part of their sentence.

Some forensic psychologists choose private practice and serve as consultants, although this is uncommon, while others focus on possibilities in research facilities. Forensic psychologists primarily work in law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities and mental health institutions. They may also be members of psychology and law departments in an academic setting. Probation departments and community health organizations also employ forensic psychologists.

The average salary for forensic psychologists in 2015 was $60,636 per year, which is is significantly lower than the median reported for all types of psychologists at $92,110 in 2014. Job growth for all kinds of psychologists, including forensic psychologists, was expected to increase by 12 percent between 2012 and 2022. Because most positions available to forensic psychologists are law enforcement and government related, salaries are often determined by local, state and federal budgetary concerns.

Working as a Forensic Psychologist

While a forensic psychologist can establish a career with just a Master's degree, a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Ph.D. in psychology is suggested. The American Board of Professional Psychology classifies forensic psychology as a recognized specialty and offers certification examinations, and licensing is absolutely mandatory for all practicing psychologists. It can be achieved by passing examinations administered by the state psychologist licensing board.

The program focuses on developing the skills and knowledge needed to work in the field of forensic psychology. Individuals who are pursuing forensic psychology careers can find employment in law firms, courthouses and police stations. Juvenile detention centers, jails and prisons also frequently hire forensic psychologists. Those seeking forensic psychology careers might also follow through on opportunities to become self-employed as consultants. Alternately, they may elect to obtain compensation for providing expert witness testimony.