Forensic psychologists use psychology in the legal and correctional systems. They may work in correctional facilities, for public prosecutors, or as experts in law firms. Forensic psychologists testify in courtrooms, carry out research, perform investigations, or implement treatment programs for patients.
This guide explores what forensic psychologists do, the different types of forensic psychology degrees, and available career paths with each degree.
Degrees in Forensic Psychology
Like other psychologist jobs, you must earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to practice as a clinical forensic psychologist. Most forensic psychology education paths begin with a general psychology bachelor's degree. Learners can then specialize during a forensic psychology master's degree or a forensic psychology doctorate. However, some schools offer a forensic psychology bachelor's degree.
Bachelor's Degrees in Forensic Psychology
Because forensic psychology is a new field, there are relatively few forensic psychology degrees at the bachelor's level, both online or on campus. Most forensic psychologists earn their bachelor's degree in general psychology.
Classes include introductory courses in personality, social psychology, cognitive psychology, psychology research methods, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and more focused courses, such as abnormal and criminal psychology. You also learn how to conduct ethical psychology experiments.
Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology master's program courses include forensic psychology assessment, the psychology of violence, psychology and sex offenders, evaluation and treatment of criminal offenders, victim advocacy, and the court and legal system.
In many programs, you can specialize in either the legal aspects of forensic psychology or in psychological counseling. Students participate in fieldwork under the supervision of a licensed forensic psychologist. Many forensic psychology master's degrees are available online or in a hybrid format.
Forensic psychology master's programs prepare students for forensic psychology doctorates. Depending on state regulations, however, you can also become a counselor, correctional administrator, or victim advocate with a master's degree.
Featured Online Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.
Doctorates in Forensic Psychology
You need a state license to work as a licensed forensic psychologist. Most states require a forensic psychology doctorate (either a Ph.D. or Psy.D.) and an internship during your doctorate program. While both types of forensic psychology doctorates require classes in practice and in research, a Psy.D. program focuses on the practice of forensic psychology and a Ph.D. on conducting research. For either program, you must write a doctoral thesis based on your research.
Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology combines criminal psychology and the legal aspects of general psychology. Criminal psychology focuses more narrowly on the development, assessment, and treatment of criminals, while forensic psychology includes public policy, law, and the court system.
To practice as a psychologist, you must have a state license. However, you can use a forensic psychology degree to become a counselor or therapist or to work in the correctional system.
Forensic psychologists invest considerable time and effort into earning a forensic psychology doctorate. The work can be stressful and frustrating. However, it can also be rewarding intellectually, and psychologists earn above-average salaries.
The average forensic psychologist salary, according to Payscale data from November 2021, is $71,730. Your salary depends on your experience, choice of workplace, and geographic location.
The American Board of Professional Psychology offers board certification in forensic psychology. While not legally required, it is a valuable credential.
What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
If you are interested in law, psychology, criminal justice, and crime prevention, becoming a forensic psychologist can be an exciting career. You can work in a variety of settings, including the correctional system, the courts, law firms, or as a counselor. Typical responsibilities include:
- Conducting psychological assessments of accused or convicted criminals
- Diagnosing conditions and analyzing the legal aspects of these conditions
- Advising attorneys on psychological aspects of criminal cases
Other responsibilities vary based on your workplace setting and the focus of your degree.
What Else Can I Do With a Forensic Psychology Degree?
While you need a forensic psychology doctorate to practice as a forensic psychologist, you have multiple options in social services, law enforcement, or detective work with a forensic psychology bachelor's degree.
With a forensic psychology master's degree, you have even more options, such as counseling, social work, or consulting. You can work for the correctional system, law firms, law enforcement, detective agencies, or as an independent practitioner, and can specialize in areas, such as jury psychology, crime prevention, or victim advocacy.
Feature Image: Lucy Lambriex / DigitalVision / Getty Images