Hero Image How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

If you find yourself drawn to studying human behaviors and analyzing the intricacies of legal cases, you might consider pursuing a career in forensic psychology.

This specialty field of psychology attracts people interested in criminology, criminal justice, and human behavior. As a forensic psychologist, you need impressive analytical, observational, and communication skills.

A relatively recent field that rose to prominence in 1962, the demand for forensic psychologists increases steadily, providing job opportunities for new graduates.

Due to the complex nature of the job and the critical implications of their decisions, experienced forensic psychologists may enjoy a base salary of around $100,000, according to PayScale data. A relatively recent field that rose to prominence in 1962, the demand for forensic psychologists increases steadily, providing job opportunities for new graduates.

To take advantage of this flourishing field, continue reading and explore how to become a forensic psychologist. The information below takes an in-depth look at the necessary steps to enter this career, including typical education and experience requirements.

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Skills | Steps | Requirements | FAQs

What Is a Forensic Psychologist?

Similar to other psychology specialties, forensic psychologists observe, study, and identify brain functions such as behavioral patterns, disorders, and emotional matters. These professionals apply their clinical skills to individuals impacted by the legal system.

Forensic psychologists work in a number of environments connected to the law. For example, they may study how children handle testifying in court or whether a defendant is emotionally or mentally capable of standing trial. A forensic psychologist might work in a police department, court, hospital, detention center, or private practice.

What Is Forensic Psychology?

Required Skills for Forensic Psychologists

Since forensic psychologists combine the legal and psychological worlds, they possess a unique skill set. Studying behavioral patterns and evaluating mental states within the context of the legal system requires an understanding of that system.

If you want to become a forensic psychologist, you should possess an interest in human behavior, the reasons behind people’s actions, and criminal justice. The job involves extensive teamwork, problem solving, communication, and knowledge of both the legal system and psychological practices.

In the lists below you will find a few of the numerous skills required to become a successful forensic psychologist.

Hard Skills

Active Listening
Active listening, or giving your complete attention to what someone is communicating, is particularly important in this role. The method includes taking notes, observing behaviors, and rewording what you heard.
Clinical Research
Forensic psychologists often complete extensive clinical research on mental health and behavioral patterns. Even if a particular job does not include clinical research, psychologists often turn to research results to aid their work.
Counseling Techniques
As a licensed forensic psychologist, you work closely with your clients. Counseling techniques help you evaluate, understand, and connect with people.
Data Analysis
Professional psychologists must review extensive statistics, analyze data, and apply findings to draw conclusions regarding specific situations.

Soft Skills

Critical Thinking
The ability to analyze and evaluate a situation forms a crucial part of forensic psychology. Professionals must think critically and solve problems daily.
Objectivity
Forensic psychologists often work in challenging situations, so they must attempt to keep any personal biases in check and remain objective in all situations.
Communication
Since forensic psychologists balance both psychology and law, they routinely work with other psychologists, lawyers, clients, and judges. They need strong communication and people skills to succeed in the field.
Compassion
Even though psychologists must remain objective, a natural level of compassion helps professionals understand and connect with clients.

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How Do I Become a Forensic Psychologist?

Depending on your intended career, becoming a psychologist can take anywhere from 6-14 years. While some roles in the field require a master’s degree, obtaining a doctorate and licensure provides access to more job opportunities and advancement in the field. To become a licensed forensic psychologist, you can expect to complete at least ten years of education.

Along with significant schooling, becoming a forensic psychologist requires passing a licensing examination, research, and years of field experience. Each state establishes specific expectations for forensic psychology licensure, so check in with your state’s guidelines to estimate your timeline.

Since researchers consistently publish new findings, forensic psychology requires continued education, even after you obtain a graduate degree. You can expect to attend workshops, training sessions, and classes throughout your career to ensure you understand the latest findings and to apply them to your practice.

Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist

  1. Enroll in an undergraduate program. Make sure to choose a relevant major, such as psychology, criminal justice, or forensic psychology. Applicable degrees typically take four years to complete.
  2. Apply for undergraduate internships or research positions. Gaining experience after graduation or as part of your bachelor’s degree gives you real-world experience and improves your chances of acceptance into a graduate program.
  3. Complete a master’s degree in forensic psychology. A master’s program generally takes two years and prepares you for a Ph.D. program. To graduate, many schools require a final practicum that you may complete by working in courts, prisons, police departments, or other related sites.
  4. Earn a doctoral degree in forensic psychology. The program takes at least four years to complete and allows you to explore a specific area of forensic psychology.
  5. Register with the American Board of Professional Psychology. An optional step, if you hope to eventually become a certified forensic psychologist you might choose to register with ABPP while enrolled in your doctoral program.
  6. Present a dissertation. Your doctoral studies culminate with a heavily researched and detailed dissertation.
  7. Complete required hours of professional experience. After graduation, you must complete a certain number of hours established by your state to earn your license.
  8. Pass the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology. In addition to field experience, forensic psychologists must pass the EPPP to earn licensure.
  9. Apply for your clinical psychologist license. Once you complete the required hours of practice and pass the exam, you can apply for your license.
  10. Apply for board certification. An optional step, you may pursue ABPP certification in forensic psychology.

Forensic Psychology Education Requirements

Becoming a forensic psychologist requires extensive education. As with other psychology specialties, you need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. for most jobs in the field. However, some research, industry, and education positions may accept applicants with a master’s degree.

Applicants for doctoral programs typically hold a bachelor’s degree in an applicable field of study, such as psychology, criminal justice, criminology, or forensic psychology, and a master’s degree. Graduate degrees might be in forensic psychology or clinical psychology with a concentration in forensics.

To obtain licensure, your doctorate must come from an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited institution.

Some universities offer a dual master’s and doctoral degree, which shortens a student’s investment of both time and money. Additionally, keep in mind that to obtain licensure, your doctorate must come from an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited institution.

Because of the complexity of forensic psychology jobs, organizations and businesses prefer applicants with advanced education. A master’s degree may open the door to positions as a therapist, specialist, or researcher. However, to become a licensed clinical forensic psychologist or to earn promotions, you’ll need to earn a doctorate.

Ph.D. in forensic psychology graduates enjoy numerous benefits. With a doctoral degree, you gain access to lucrative salaries; professionals in the field earn an average annual salary of $73,414 according to PayScale. Plus, holding a Ph.D., license and board certification in forensic psychology gives candidates a significant competitive edge in the job market.

Required Experience for Forensic Psychologists

Given the importance of a forensic psychologist’s responsibilities, entry-level professionals must complete extensive hours of experience before they can practice independently.

As a general rule, students should prepare for at least 4,000 hours, or two full-time years, of supervised experience to apply for a psychology license. You may complete some of these hours during internships, but must conduct at least 2,000 hours after earning your doctoral degree.

Specific experience requirements depend on the state where you wish to work. Some states require a total of 3,000 hours, while others may increase that amount to 6,000.

Internships and practicums often form part of your forensic psychology education and contribute to the required experience hours. From undergraduate internships to required graduate practicums, you may easily acquire 2,000 hours before graduating with your doctorate.

To fulfill your post-doctoral supervised experience requirements you may coordinate with professors, mentors, or previous internship contacts.

Internships and Practicums

Forensic Psychology Internship Opportunities

Forensic psychology education requirements typically include an internship or practicum. Since forensic psychologists complete much of their daily job responsibilities in the field, these internships and practicums can prepare students for their postgraduate careers.

Whether a program requires an internship or practicum depends on the degree level and school. Internships and practicums allow students to complete hands-on experience that helps them connect competencies to career responsibilities.

The main difference between practicums and internships is the scope of work students can perform. Learners involved in practicums typically observe psychology professionals conduct common responsibilities, including counseling patients or suggesting treatment plans. In internships, students complete most of their work independently, reporting to a supervisor, but not working directly with them.

Settings for psychology internships differ depending on the type of psychology learners want to practice after graduation. Forensic psychology students often pursue internships or practicums in prisons, government settings, or research institutes, focusing on the type of work they want to pursue after graduation. Students can browse this page to learn more about psychology internships and practicums.

Licensing Requirements for Forensic Psychologists

Students who want to learn how to become a forensic psychologist should explore their state’s licensing requirements. Psychologists must meet different licensing requirements depending on the state in which they want to practice. Each state’s licensing board can provide more information about the process.

Specific licensing requirements vary by state. To begin the licensing process, candidates must meet the educational criteria. Most states require candidates to hold a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally accredited college or university. Many states also require students to complete a psychology degree that features accreditation from the American Psychological Association or a related programmatic accrediting agency.

After satisfying the educational component, candidates in all 50 states must complete and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology to demonstrate their competencies in core psychology areas. Some states might also require candidates to complete and pass a jurisprudence exam.

Certification for Forensic Psychologists

In addition to obtaining a license, current and aspiring forensic psychologists should consider applying for a specialty certification in forensics.

Most psychology positions require a state license but not certification. In fact, about only 8% of licensed U.S. forensic psychologists earned their certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

Since organizations do not require board certification for psychologists, many professionals do not prioritize it. However, obtaining one of the 15 available ABPP certifications can increase your salary and marketability and set you apart from your peers. Since the psychology field encompasses a wide variety of specialties, a certificate also assures your clients that you hold expertise in forensic psychology.

Even though many psychologists postpone certification, you can easily add it to your timeline of becoming a forensic psychologist. Start by taking courses in your graduate and doctoral studies that align with the forensic specialty. You may register with the ABPP as soon as you enroll in a doctoral program or wait until you obtain your license. However, the earlier you apply, the lower the application fee.

Once registered, start working with your professors or board-certified forensic psychologists to prepare samples and cases. This documentation contributes to the certification process, along with a written and oral exam. After fulfilling all of the requirements set forth by the ABPP, the board votes on your acceptance.

The Forensic Psychologist Job Hunt

Finding a job in a niche field such as forensic psychology may present some hurdles. As such, networking offers one of the most successful ways to land a forensic psychology job.

The licensure path, which includes internships and thousands of hours of experience, naturally cultivates opportunities to meet others in the forensic psychology field. These professionals and mentors can provide recommendations and connect you with hiring companies.

Attending university job fairs and conferences, like the workshops hosted by the American Academy of Forensic Psychology or the American Psychological Association career fairs, can also provide you with ample networking opportunities.

Candidates can also utilize online searches and job sites to find forensic psychology jobs. You can begin your search with the following websites:

  • Indeed With 250 million monthly visitors and 10 new jobs posted every second, Indeed offers plenty of forensic psychology listings and a regular supply of new opportunities.
  • Glassdoor Like Indeed, Glassdoor lists millions of jobs in all fields. Applicants can also read thorough reviews about each hiring company, including details about salaries and work environments.
  • American Psychological Association As the primary psychology organization in the United States, the APA provides numerous resources to professional and future psychologists, including job listings.
  • PsychologyJobs.com Helping narrow your search, this job site exclusively posts psychology work opportunities, along with tips and resources for aspiring psychologists.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What degree do you need to be a forensic psychologist?

    The vast majority of forensic psychology jobs require a doctoral degree. However, forensic psychological research positions often ask applicants to hold a master’s degree.

  • How long does it take to become a forensic psychologist?

    The traditional study route requires about 10 years of education, including four years to obtain your bachelor’s, two years to complete your master’s, and at least another four years for your doctorate. However, some schools offer a combined master’s and doctoral program to help shorten that time. Students must also complete about two years of supervised professional experience.

  • What qualifications do you need to be a forensic psychologist?

    Apart from a doctoral degree in forensic psychology, you must pass the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology and complete the required hours of practice stipulated by your state to qualify for your license.

  • What is a forensic psychologist's income?

    A forensic psychologist’s annual income averages $73,414 per year, according to PayScale. Depending on their industry and experience level, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that psychologists may earn over $130,000.

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