Forensic Psychologist: Education Requirements and Career Information

Forensic psychologists have become an essential component of the legal system. They determine whether or not a person is able to stand trial. The forensic psychologist also helps a judge decide which parent the child will go to in a custody dispute. They often work behind the scenes counseling both victims and perpetrators of crimes.

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Education Requirements for Forensic Psychologists

While a forensic psychologist may find work in research with only a bachelor's degree, a Ph.D. or master's degree in psychology is required for licensing or certification. Licensing is essential for all practicing psychologists and can be obtained by taking examinations through the state psychologist licensing board. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) classifies forensic psychology as a recognized specialty and offers certification examinations.

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, most jobs require varying levels of legal studies. This is a relatively new facet of psychology and forensic psychologists are encouraged to participate in continuing education programs throughout their careers.

Career Information for Forensic Psychologists

There are a variety of paths a forensic psychologist may take. Some work specifically with crime victims. A forensic psychologist counsels rape and abuse victims of all ages before, during and after court trials. They also assist victims in dealing with the stress of reliving the crime when the victims appear on the witness stand. On occasion, the forensic psychologist will testify as an expert witness to explain to a judge and jury the effects of the crime on the victim.

Other forensic psychologists work with the accused. These psychologists consult with persons being charged with crimes and assess the competency levels of the accused. The forensic psychologist often determines whether or not the accused has a clear enough understanding of right and wrong to stand trial. They may make a recommendation to a judge that the accused be sent to an institution for therapy prior to or in lieu of a court trial. These psychologists also work with those who have been convicted of crimes if part of the sentence includes rehabilitative therapy.

Some forensic psychologists go into private practice and work as consultants, but this is rare. Others have opportunities in research facilities. Primarily, forensic psychologists work in correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies and mental health institutions. They may also be members of law and psychology departments in an academic setting. Or, community health organizations and probation departments may employ forensic psychologists.

As of November 2013, PayScale.com shows the salary for most forensic psychologists as ranging from $36,501 to $121,600 annually. Since most jobs available to forensic scientists are government and law enforcement related, salaries are often determined by federal, state and local budgetary concerns. Washington D.C. and California are the favored employers geographically and financially.

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  • School locations:
    • California (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Psychology
      • Psychology and Human Behavior
        • Cognitive Science
        • Psychology, General
  • School locations:
    • Massachusetts (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Psychology
      • Psychology and Human Behavior
        • Psychology, General
        • Social Psychology
  • School locations:
    • Pennsylvania (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Pennsylvania include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Psychology
      • Developmental Psychology
      • Psychology and Human Behavior
        • Cognitive Science
        • Counseling Psychology, General
        • Psychology, General
  • School locations:
    • Rhode Island (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Brown University include:
      • Graduate: First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Psychology
      • Psychology and Human Behavior
        • Cognitive Psychology and Psycholinguistics
        • Psychology, General

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