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Forensic Psychology CareersWhat is a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologists are licensed psychologists interested in psychology as it pertains to the law. These mental-health professionals utilize their knowledge of psychology to help solve legal concerns in a variety of settings. Along with general psychology training, Forensic Psychologists have extensive knowledge of the legal system, as well as ethics and professionalism. These psychologists are committed to lifelong learning, especially when it comes to the connection between psychology and law. Forensic Psychologists are adaptive problem solvers who work independently and as part of a team to study, understand, and solve often-complicated legal matters.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

The field of Forensic Psychology is broad and psychologists specializing in forensics have an equally diverse range of responsibilities.

Any part of the legal system with a psychological element will involve a forensic psychologist.

For example, forensic psychologists may perform the following roles and duties while aiding law enforcement:

  • Research crimes and individuals
  • Complete witness investigations
  • Interview suspects and persons of interest
  • Provide advice on psychological and legal matters
  • Help in establishing criminal profiles
  • Assessing the mental competency of suspects
  • Testifying in court

A forensic psychologist may also help defense attorneys in the following ways:

  • Aiding in the selection of jurors
  • Assessing prosecution witnesses
  • Helping establish specific defenses

In addition, in family law, a forensic psychologist may:

  • Assess threat levels of involved parties
  • Evaluate parents in child custody cases
  • Evaluate children in family law cases
  • Recommend legal action

Forensic psychologists also provide input in policymaking in the following ways:

  • Assess corrections systems’ mental health challenges and needs
  • Help formulate pro-mental health policies in civil, criminal, and family law
  • Work with inmates to formulate positive mental health programs

Due to popular television programs and movies with a focus on crime, Forensic Psychology has gained more popularity in recent years. However very few Forensic Psychologists facilitate criminal profiling. This investigative tool is often assigned to highly-trained professionals in the law enforcement field.  

Where Does a Forensic Psychologist Work?

Forensic Psychologists work in a variety of settings. Many work in corrections facilities, police departments, outpatient care centers, or hospitals. Some dedicate their working hours to forensic psychology research or teaching others about the field in colleges and universities. Government agencies also employ Forensic Psychologists.

What Career Options are Available to a Forensic Psychologist?

  • Correctional Psychologist – designing programs for correctional facilities
  • Forensic Scientist – working in forensics labs or medical examiners’ offices
  • FBI Special Agent – supporting the FBI’s mission of public safety by analyzing motives and providing professional insights
  • Jury consultant – assisting law firms with a wide variety of tasks including scientific jury selection, opening statement writing and preparing witnesses for deposition

Forensic Psychology in Popular Culture

There are several famous forensic psychologists in popular culture:

  1. Dr. Hannibal Lecter from “The Silence of the Lambs”
  2. Dr. Jason Bull from “Bull” – This character is based on the real-life forensic psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw.
  3. Dr. Wendy Carr from “Mindhunter” – This character is based on the real-life forensic psychologist Ann Wolbert Burgess.
  4. Dr. Samantha Waters from “Profiler”
  5. Dr. Tony Hill from “Wire in the Blood”

It goes without saying that whilst there are many accuracies in these portrayals of the field of forensic psychology, they really cannot be relied up as providing a truly accurate representation of what your day to day work would be like.

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist


How long does it take to become a forensic psychologist?

A bachelor’s degree takes four years. A master’s takes two. A doctorate takes two to six years. Specialized training to be a forensic psychologist varies in time based on what you complete and the state requirements where you want to practice.

Your state will process your application, and you must apply to the ASPPB to take the EPPP. Once you have passed that, your state board will determine your license eligibility criteria. Once that is completed, you will have to take your certification exam. If you pass that, your certification will be sent to your state licensing board. 

That board will then notify you of your licensed status and send you paperwork to display showing you are licensed.

Each state has different review and notification processes, although they all follow the same general format.

Educational Requirements

No matter what type of psychologist you want to become, you must complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. After that, requirements depend on state criteria.

In most states, a master’s degree is the minimum requirement to practice as a forensic psychologist. You still need to satisfy state criteria for a license to practice in that state. You can, however, practice as a forensic psychologist, although not a licensed forensic psychologist, as long as your state only requires you to have a master’s degree.

Many states, however, require a doctorate in psychology focusing on forensic psychology to obtain an official license as a forensic psychologist. Many states do not have a specific license for the practice but do have a general licensing requirement.

Learn more about studying for a PhD in Forensic Psychology

Specialized Training

In addition to the foundation of psychology, many states also require a forensic psychology applicant to receive and complete specialized training. Specialized training in forensic psychology covers a wide range of skills, including, but not limited to:

  • Conducting individual mental health assessments
  • Developing profiles of suspects
  • Procedures for interviewing suspects
  • Determining mental status from a legal perspective

A forensic psychologist will also receive training in the practical application of the legal system:

  • Court procedures
  • Evidence collection and preservation
  • Law Enforcement Database training
  • Safety procedures and protocols

If a forensic psychologist works on civil and family court matters, they might receive training:

  • Interviewing family members
  • Performing threat assessments
  • Interviewing children
  • Writing formal evaluations

The key difference between a forensic psychologist and someone specializing in another field of psychology is that the training a forensic psychologist receives will pertain to how the legal system affects a normal day’s activities for a psychologist.

Certification and Licensing

In order to practice in specific states throughout the country as a forensic psychologist, you must obtain a license front that state. Every state has its idiosyncrasies, but most states have a basic process you must follow. 

At a minimum, to qualify for a license in psychology, you must:

  • Completed a psychology doctorate
  • Completed an official internship
  • Possess one to two years of supervised professional experience
  • Passed the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology

Each state has a licensing administration agency. Every agency has basic routines for processing applications, determining licensing eligibility, and awarding licenses.

Application and Fee

You must fill out an application package. Each application package will include the following: 

  • Application form with basic contact and education information
  • Clinical Experience Summary form
  • Essay questions (usually five to ten questions pertaining to your experience and knowledge)

You will also have to provide the following:

  • A Graduate Program Summary and Course form
  • Internship verification with your supervisor’s review
  • Reference form of professionals you have worked with
  • A summary of your pre and post-degree clinical psychology work experience

Every application process will also have a fee that is usually a few hundred dollars. With most states, you will also supply them with an updated version of your resume.

Licensure Examination

To obtain your license, you must take and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB.) You should study for the exam.

Once your application is processed, the ASPPB will accept you if you meet their eligibility criteria and set up the exam. There are 225 multiple-choice questions on the exam. You must get a score of at least 500, or 70% of the questions answered correctly. 

Board Determination

Your state psychology board will be sent your exam score, and that board will review your application and determine your licensure eligibility. 

Certification Exam

Once you have received your license to practice, you must pass the ASPBB written and oral examination for forensic psychologists. If you pass that, you receive Specialty Board Certification in Forensic Psychology. 

State Reciprocity

If you hold a current license, you can provide the following to avoid having to take the EPPP and go through the licensing process:

You will have to also pay the fee and submit a signed Verification of Licensure/Certification from Another Jurisdiction form.

Continuing Education Requirements

Every state licensing board has continuing education requirements. To renew your license after the specified term, you must complete this training and education before you apply for renewal. 

Each state awards continuing education credits based on the activities you complete. You can complete direct coursework from an approved list, approved workshops, and seminars. In most states, you can teach education training sessions and receive credit.

You will also have to complete ethics training. Ethics training can include, but is not limited to:

  • Patient Privacy Laws
  • Maintaining professional relationships and sexual harassment training
  • Legal handling of finances
  • Education specific to processes related to forensic psychology

How Much Money Does a Forensic Psychologist Earn?

Forensic Psychologists earn an average annual salary of $101,000 but that figure can vary based on specialization, location, and years of service.

What Skills and Traits Are Important in the Forensic Psychology Field?

Forensic Psychologists must possess strong communication, listening, and critical thinking skills. Strong leadership skills and the capacity to express oneself verbally and through writing are key strengths of a Forensic Psychologist. It is important for them to fully understand social and cultural issues. As trained professionals, these psychologists may need to interact with offenders and witnesses.

Knowledge in mental-health, law, and courtroom practices is also important. These professionals must be quick on their feet, ready and willing to present to a group of people with very little time to prepare. It is necessary for them to have strong stress-management and coping skills. They must be self-starters and have an excellent work ethic, always motivated, and committed to their field.

Legal knowledge and the understanding of law as it pertains to psychology is a necessity. A desire to keep up-to-date on advances in the field and willingness to learn and teach new information and skills is very important in the field of Forensic Psychology.

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