What Is a Forensic Psychologist?

Job Duties, Education Requirements and Salary

A female psychologist teaching a class

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The term Forensic Psychologist likely brings to mind thoughts of fast-paced crime solving as seen on so many popular television shows and movies. From CSI and The Profiler to even Hannibal Lecter, it is tempting to believe the field of forensic psychology is full of action and adrenaline, helping police to bring down a new criminal every week.

Of course, like most other television dramatizations, the true role of a forensic psychologist is often far less glamorous or exciting, but it is by no means less rewarding or personally fulfilling.

Job Duties of a Forensic Psychologist

As is the case with the criminology industry as a whole, the job functions of a forensic psychologist are many and diverse.

Though the title suggests it to be a singular occupation with clearly defined duties and job description, in fact, it refers to any number of specializations within the field of psychology. The term Forensic Psychology simply refers to the practice of psychology in association with the law and the civil or criminal justice system.

The American Board of Forensic Psychology defines it like this: Forensic Psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system.

In layman's terms, a forensic psychologist is simply any psychologist who works for or with the legal system. As such, there are any number of job functions one can choose to focus on if they are interested in a career in forensic psychology. Individual areas of focus for forensic psychologists include:

  • Criminal profiling services
  • Child custody evaluations
  • Investigate reports of child abuse
  • Expert witness/​courtroom testimony regarding psychological questions before the court
  • Evaluating suspected criminals for mental competency and their ability to stand trial
  • Evaluating convicted criminals to aid in creating plans for rehabilitation
  • Evaluating potential jurors and consulting with prosecuting defense, and plaintiff's attorneys with regards to selecting juries
  • Evaluating witnesses, such as children, to verify truthfulness and/or ability to recall key facts and circumstances
  • Consulting with, and providing training and curriculum development for, law enforcement and corrections agencies
  • Teaching undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as at law schools for juris doctorate candidates
  • Evaluating potential police officers for employment through psychological screenings

Hiring Process of Forensic Psychologists

In pursuing a career in forensic psychology, it is important to realize that in many cases a licensed clinical psychologist performs these functions. They may be employed directly by the state, local, or federal government or, as is more often the case, they work in private practice and provide consulting services to the courts or police agencies on a contractual basis.

Education Requirements of Forensic Psychology

To interact with and evaluate clients or patients, a doctoral degree is required. Many post-graduate programs require a bachelor's degree in psychology as a prerequisite. However, some programs may simply require a certain number of semester hours in psychology combined with courses in other sciences.

Those who hold a master's degree in psychology may perform work on a research level. It is generally understood that an advanced degree is required to be able to practice as a forensic psychologist.

Licensure for Forensic Psychologists

In addition to educational requirements, every state has licensing requirements. The specific qualifications vary from state to state but include combinations of education and work experience requirements. Additionally, taking and passing a standardized test is required to obtain licensure.

Job Opportunities in Forensic Psychology

Salaries can vary widely, however, and will depend greatly on the level of education and specific field. Practicing clinical psychologists who work in forensics as consultants will typically earn far more than a forensic psychologist who works directly for a government agency.

Private practicing consultants can bill an hourly rate, which can be as high as several hundred dollars per hour for their services, whereas a psychologist who works in the prison system will earn a significantly lower salary. Forensic Psychologists who worked for state governments were among the lower wage earners, making around $57,000.

Certain niches within psychology and forensic psychology are expected to grow by a whopping 56 percent through 2022. The most opportunities will be for those who specialize in industrial psychology, particularly in testing and evaluating criminal justice job applicants.

Is Forensic Psychology for You?

A career in forensic psychology offers many opportunities to help others, and as with other careers in criminology, it can be extremely fulfilling. Much of the subject matter, however, can at times prove to be disturbing.

Additionally, forensic psychologists often work with people in extreme emotional states. As a result, the job can at times prove to be both physically and mentally exhausting. However, if you have a passion for studying how the mind works, especially how it relates to criminal justice, you will find a career in forensic psychology to be both challenging and satisfying.

  • Forensic psychology not for you? Learn all about the highest paying jobs in criminology and criminal justice
  • If these career options don't get you excited, learn more about other great jobs in criminology and criminal justice.