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Forensic Psychologist

Education and Training: Master’s degree and/or a doctorate in forensic psychology and criminal justice
Average Salary: $53,000 a year
Job Outlook: Limited

Job Description

A forensic psychologist must be able to understand not only psychology but also criminal and civil law. This is because they work closely with the legal profession and the judicial system, and frequently have to evaluate a criminal defendant in order for a decision to be made as to whether that person is mentally fit to stand trial. Forensic psychologists are also important for the jury selection process in court cases, and are able to evaluate potential jury members’ responses to determine if they will be a good candidate. They are often called as expert witnesses during court cases and have to give their professional perspective on investigations.

Forensic psychologists also have to decide if a victim’s death was due to accident, murder or suicide. This requires them to research the victim’s background and identify behaviors that could indicate a suicidal tendency. While some forensic psychologists work closely with law enforcement officials others work independently in private practice counseling clients who might be criminal offenders. Other potential clients include those facing custody disputes or juvenile offenders.

The most highly trained forensic psychologists are also able to train others within the profession and can work at universities teaching students and teaching the clinical components of a course. Forensic psychology offers exciting career opportunities within a number of different fields.

Education and Training Requirements

Students wishing to become forensic psychologists should concentrate their studies on psychology, sociology and criminal justice, and should choose a bachelor’s degree that combines these subjects. The best course of action might be to try get a double major in psychology and criminology. It’s best to get a Master’s degree or a doctorate in clinical psychology as the more highly qualified person is more likely to obtain a forensic psychologist position.

Getting the Job

One of the best ways to get a foot in the door is by gaining an assistant post under a chartered forensic psychologist for at least two years. This will give you valuable experience and guidance, and once you have completed the fieldwork in this program you will have the opportunity of progressing to take the state certification exam. Once you have passed this exam you can get certification in forensic psychology from the American Board of Forensic Psychology. Taking this career path will enable you to have a much better choice of jobs, in a field where opportunities can be limited.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

The job prospects for a forensic psychologist are quite constrained, and it can be quite difficult to get a job in this field as the number of positions is often limited due to funding, and only the larger law enforcement agencies have sufficient money to hire professionals. The best way to get ahead is to gain as many qualifications as possible and to concentrate on getting good experience.

Working Conditions and Environment

Working conditions are likely to be reasonable, although some may find it stressful at times. A good percentage of the work is carried out in court rooms, or involves writing up reports for court cases. Forensic psychologists also spend a good part of their time in criminal detention centers and police stations.

Salary and Benefits

Anyone gaining a job can expect to be paid anything from $39,000 to $77,000 a year depending on experience and credentials. Salary is likely to be limited due to lack of funding for forensic psychologists, and the majority of jobs are within the judicial service, so although applicants can expect paid vacations and sick leave, they are unlikely to get any other bonuses which might be expected within the private sector. Hours tend to be regular, and forensic psychologists are unlikely to be required to work in the evenings or at weekends.

Where to Go for More Information

American Board of Forensic Psychology
600 Market St., Ste. 300
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Tel: (919) 537-8031

American Psychology-Law Society
PO Box 11488
Southport, NC 28461-3936
(910) 933-4018

Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology
221 Rivermoor St.
Boston, MA 02132
(617) 327-6777 | 617-323-666

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