Forensic Psychology Schools and Degree Programs

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychology is a rapidly growing discipline at the intersection of the fields of psychology and criminal justice. If the idea of applying clinical and theoretical understandings of human behaviors and mental health issues to challenges within the courts, corrections, or law enforcement systems appeals to you, forensic psychology may be a good career fit.

What is Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychology is the application of psychology to our legal system. The word “forensic” comes from the Latin “forensis” or “of the forum,” with forums being Roman courts of law.

Experts typically recognize two definitions of forensic psychology: one that is narrowly applied to activity within the criminal justice system, and a broader definition that includes the body of knowledge surrounding these issues. The narrow definition deals with the application of clinical psychology skills such as assessment and treatment to those who encounter the legal system, such as suspected perpetrators, witnesses, or victims of crime. The broader definition emphasizes research and experimentation in other areas of psychology, such as cognitive and behavioral psychology, as they relate to issues in the legal arena.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

Forensic psychologists use research, clinical skills, and their knowledge of the legal system to evaluate and make recommendations about defendants, victims, and convicted offenders. As discussed above, there are two different focuses in forensic psychology: clinical and research.

Clinical-Focused Forensic Psychology

One of the most common jobs for forensic psychologists as clinicians is the assessment of various situations, locations, and people. This work includes:

  • Assessing suspects to make recommendations about whether the suspects are fit to stand trial
  • Reconstructing and gauging a suspect’s frame of mind and mental abilities at the time a crime occurred to determine a person’s mental state—”mens rea”—for insanity-defense cases
  • Evaluating victims and other witnesses to inform lawyers about the advisability of having them testify
  • Studying previous crimes and criminals to create a profile of a suspect
  • Performing threat assessments for schools
  • Analyzing domestic situations to provide child custody recommendations

Forensic psychologists communicate their findings to the appropriate legal professionals. They are frequently asked to testify in court proceedings.

The clinical aspect of forensic psychology also includes treatment and rehabilitation. Forensic psychologists might:

  • Counsel victims of crimes in hospitals, clinics, or private practice
  • Work in prisons to provide mental health services to individual inmates or groups
  • Treat police offers who are suffering from post-traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD)
  • Work with youth in juvenile detention centers

Research-Focused Forensic Psychology

In contrast to their clinically focused colleagues, forensic psychologists involved in research both analyze existing research and conduct new research. They often have expertise in areas of psychology like cognitive psychology, abnormal psychology, or behavioral psychology. Research-focused forensic psychologists typically work at colleges and universities and may both teach and conduct research. Forensic science researchers write their findings in reports, journals, or, in some cases, books.

Research studies abound in the area of forensic psychology and can include topics such as criminal behavior, criminal responsibility, divorce and child custody, eyewitness memory, mental health law, police psychology, and sentencing and incarceration.

Forensic Psychologist Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for psychologists as a whole was $79,010 a year, or $37.99 an hour, in 2018. Practitioners in some settings—like state government, for instance, a common employer type for forensic psychologists—earned higher median salaries than those in other industries.

PayScale provides salary information that is specific to forensic psychologists:

Career LengthMedian SalaryTop 10%
Early Career (1–4 years’ experience)$67,400$94,000
Mid-Career (5–9 years’ experience)$84,800$128,000
Late-Career (10+ years’ experience)$114,800$158,000

Salary data from Payscale

However, some forensic psychologists report much higher figures than those provided above. In the article American Psychological Association article “Postgrad growth area: Forensic psychology”, Mary Connell, a private practitioner in Fort Worth, Texas, put salary expectations at the low- to mid-six-figure range. She estimated that forensic psychologists typically earn anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 annually, though that kind of earning potential may be reserved for forensic psychologists who have built high demand for their services from attorneys over multiple years in practice.

What are Some Forensic Psychology Jobs?

Careers in forensic psychology have rapidly grown in recent years thanks to an increased demand for skilled psychologists throughout the criminal and legal systems. Today, there are varying types of jobs in forensic psychology. While many provide direct services within the criminal justice and legal systems, including in jails or police departments, other forensic psychologists find jobs working in research centers, universities, hospitals, doctor’s offices, or forensic labs. Still others choose to be self-employed as independent consultants.

Forensic Psychologist Careers

Criminal Case Manager:  Also simply called case managers, these professionals are assigned to work with individuals in the penal system, providing mental health care and assisting with their recovery and reintegration to society. Some case managers assist formerly incarcerated people who still need support or those who independently seek help for mental illness or addiction.

  • Work locations: Criminal justice offices, mental health care locations, and addiction facilities
  • Pay and growth: $53,020, growth of 3%
Clinical Counselor: Often requiring additional licensure, clinical counselors with backgrounds in forensic psychology work with those who have addictions, are survivors of violence, or have otherwise experienced the legal system and need mental health assistance. Some clinical counselors provide traditional counseling in private practice.

  • Work locations: Criminal justice organizations (including the penal system), crisis centers and shelters, private practice
  • Pay and growth: $44,630/year, growth of 22%
Criminal Profiler: Criminal profilers study and interpret patterns in criminal behavior. They create profiles of potential, but unknown, serial offenders in an attempt to apprehend them before additional crimes are committed.

  • Work locations: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or local police departments
  • Pay and growth: $81,920, growth of 2%-3%
Jury Consultant: Jury consultants provide assistance to trial lawyers at various stages in the life of a case. Though they may work in areas like evidence evaluation and witness preparation, they also assist in the selection of jurors, including engaging in background research, questioning potential jurors, and even observing and reporting on juror behaviors during a trial. Jury consultants generally need a minimum of a master’s degree.

Victims’ Advocate: Victims’ advocates assist victims of crimes and/or their families in understanding their rights, help them access necessary resources, and act as a liaison between them and other parties (such as creditors and employers). Many attend court with victims to provide support in their times of greatest need, while others may work with 24-hour crisis hotlines.

  • Work locations: Crisis centers, social services agencies, criminal justice organizations
  • Pay and growth: $33,750, 13% growth

Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist

Becoming a forensic psychologist requires a postgraduate degree, experience, and often licensure. Here is the typical path you will follow.

1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

While there is more than one path to becoming a forensic psychologist, the first step is always the same: earn a bachelor’s degree from a fully accredited college or university. You don’t necessarily have to major in psychology, though some graduate schools only accept students with undergraduate psychology degrees.

Choosing a Forensic Psychology Bachelor’s Program

Not many schools offer degrees specifically in forensic science. However, you have other options: major in psychology with a minor in criminal justice, major in psychology with a forensic psychology focus, or similar paths that provide relevant coursework.

You will take general courses in psychology, such as child psychology, human development, and cognitive psychology. Courses that focus on forensic psychology or criminal justice may include sociology of crime and deviant behavior, criminal psychology, and the legal system.

Most undergraduate psychology programs can be completed within four years of full-time study.

2. Earn an Advanced Degree (Culminating with a Doctorate)

A doctoral degree is the standard qualification needed to practice in the field. You’ll need to have either a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree to use the title of psychologist.

About Master’s Programs in Forensic Psychology

You don’t necessarily need to complete a master’s degree in psychology to apply for a doctoral program. Some candidates choose to pursue a separate master’s degree before applying to a doctoral program, to boost their chances of getting into the Ph.D. or Psy.D. program of their choice. A master’s may be particularly helpful for those who were unable to take specific forensic psychology and criminal justice courses at the bachelor’s level.

A master’s program curriculum will train you on how to effectively work with witnesses, victims, and criminals. It will also help you learn the ins and outs of the American legal system. Specialization tracks can permit you to develop extensive expertise in a specific area. Popular specialization tracks include forensic psychology in the legal system and forensic psychology for mental health workers.

Typical courses you might take include psychopathology, criminal assessment, domestic violence, and prison reform. Master’s programs can usually be completed within two years.

Selecting a Doctoral Program in Forensic Psychology

You’ll need to either earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree to practice in the field as a psychologist. The former tends to focus on research and teaching, while the latter centers more on clinical work.

Typically, aspiring forensic psychologists will choose a doctoral degree in clinical psychology with a forensic psychology concentration, or a legal psychology doctorate—it is less common to find a dedicated forensic psychology doctoral program. (In checking program accreditation, note that the APA accredits doctoral programs in clinical psychology, among other fields, but not in forensic psychology specifically.)

In most doctoral-level programs, students learn about social psychology, human development, criminal justice and criminology, criminal psychology, and statistics. Coursework might include:

  • Evaluation and treatment of offenders, including sex offenders
  • Family systems and family treatment
  • Interrogation and interviewing
  • Issues in family law
  • Psychology of violence
  • Psychology and the legal system
  • Psychopathology
  • Research, theory, design, and methods
  • Social psychology
  • Theories of criminal behavior
  • Theories of personality and counseling

Programs generally take four to eight years to finish.

3. Gain Experience in Forensic Psychology

After earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree from an accredited doctoral program, forensic psychologists will need “the equivalent of two years of organized, sequential, supervised professional experience, one year of which is an American Psychological Association (APA)- or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)-accredited predoctoral internship,” according to the APA.

4. Obtain State Licensure

If you plan to become a clinician, you will need to become licensed. Each state has different requirements for licensure. Usually, applicants must obtain a doctoral degree, complete a set number of supervised training hours, and pass an oral or written exam.

According to the APA, graduates who expect to be employed “at a college or university, state or federal institution, research laboratory or a corporation may be exempt from having to be licensed in some states.”

Visit the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) for more information about state licensing requirements.

5. Become Board Certified

Although not an absolute requirement for practice, professional certification can help boost your career. Board certification is a voluntary process that involves being evaluated by a recognized board—for forensic psychology, this is the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP). Becoming certified shows that you have the necessary skills to work as a forensic psychologist.

The process typically involves a credential review and passing an oral and written exam. You will also undergo a background check to ensure there is nothing on your record that the Board would deem “serious ethical misconduct or unlawful behavior.”

Online Forensic Psychology Degrees

Online programs usually offer more flexibility than their on-campus counterparts, as you can take online coursework from anywhere. You may be able to take longer to complete a program or, in some cases, finish a program more quickly. You can get the same quality of education in an accredited online school that you would in a traditional brick-and-mortar school.

You can find many accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology or criminal justice that are offered online. There are also online psychology doctoral degrees available.

For doctoral studies, note that the APA—the relevant accrediting body for psychology—doesn’t accredit any fully online doctoral programs. The APA does accredit some hybrid doctoral programs, which are a combination of online and in-person learning. However, there are online doctoral programs offered that do not have APA accreditation but are accredited by other agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Such programs may be perfectly acceptable by employers and state licensure boards. Make sure to check for accreditation and your state’s requirements when you are exploring schools.

Personality Traits of a Successful Forensic Psychologist

All good clinical psychologists possess certain strengths and skills. Psychologists across the board have talents and abilities that enable them to:

  • Approach work systematically
  • Be non-judgmental
  • Communicate and listen well
  • Exhibit empathy
  • Problem-solve and make decisions

Forensic psychologists must have all the above traits as well as more specific abilities including:

  • An ability to establish a relationship with people whose behavior may be disturbing or upsetting
  • Teamwork and leadership skills
  • Planning and research experience and the ability to analyze and present statistical information
  • Self-awareness and a high level of security awareness
  • A non-discriminatory and impartial approach
  • Resilience and the capacity to cope with an element of personal risk

Forensic Psychologist Resources

If forensic psychology is the field for you, it’s important to stay abreast of current trends. It’s also helpful to have access to resources that can expand your knowledge, guide you in areas such as accreditation, and provide you with information about career opportunities. Whether you are looking to enroll in a psychology degree or already working as a forensic psychologist, you may find the following resources useful.

  • American Board of Forensic Psychology: ABFP runs the certification processes for forensic psychology. This site allows you to apply for board certification, find specialists, and discover professional development/continuing education workshops.
  • APA: What is Forensic Psychology?: This page provides the official definition and explanation of the field of forensic psychology from the American Psychological Association.
  • Zur Institute: Forensic Psychology Resources: The Zur Institute is an online-only continuing education resource. This particular page provides resources for forensic psychologists.
  • American Psychology-Law Society: This group works to advance psychology’s effects on the legal field, further the education of psychologists regarding legal topics, and help the public understand the interconnections of psychology and law. They offer informational resources and training programs, and they run a conference.
  • International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology: This nonprofit group works toward helping criminal justice professionals in creating and implementing new and humane practices across the globe.
  • Society for Police and Criminal Psychology: Focusing on law enforcement and judicial systems, this group focuses on applying psychological principles to all aspects of criminal justice.

Expert Q&A with Dr. Emin Gharibian, Licensed Psychologist

Emin Gharibian

Dr. Gharibian is a licensed psychologist (PSY 29643) specializing in neuropsychological and forensic evaluations. He has 10 years of education and training in clinical psychology and neuropsychology and extensive experience evaluating adults and adolescents for psychological and neuropsychological conditions.

His training and experience have been in psychological and neuropsychological assessment in a variety of clinical settings including private practice, outpatient mental health clinics, psychiatric hospitals, forensic hospitals, and correctional facilities.

He specializes in providing comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations for a variety of neurological conditions including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, complications from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, concussions, learning disabilities, and ADHD. He also specializes in forensic psychological and neuropsychological evaluations for immigration hearings, civil and criminal competency, and personal injury.

In addition to his private practice Verdugo Psychological Associates, he is a staff psychologist and medical staff member at Patton State Hospital. Patton State Hospital is a 1,500-bed maximum-security forensic psychiatric hospital housing judicially committed patients under the following commitment types: Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI), Incompetent to Stand Trial, Mentally Disordered Offender, and Mentally Disordered Sex Offender. He routinely conducts psychological evaluations to evaluate patients and determine if they are competent to stand trial, write court reports, and testify in court as an expert witness.

He is appointed to the Los Angeles Juvenile Court Expert Witness Panel. He is also a member of the National Academy of Neuropsychology and the American Psychology and Law Society.

How did you become a forensic psychologist? What is your education background and work experience?

Forensic psychology requires either a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in clinical psychology. All forensic psychologists start off as generalists and then specialize through their training. It’s like your MD going to medical school, then attending residency to specialize in a field.

Graduate school for psychology can range from four to seven years depending on the program. Some Ph.D. programs can be research-heavy and be as long as six to seven years, while others are more clinically oriented and typically last four to five years. Psy.D. programs are 100% clinically focused and are typically four years, although I’ve seen some that are five years.

I attended a Psy.D. program that was four years long. While I was in graduate school, I took classes the first three years and also worked in different settings to gain experience. My first year I was in a school district, my second year I was in a juvenile prison, and my third year I was in a psychiatric hospital. I provided individual and group treatment and also completed psychological testing batteries. The last year of graduate school is our internship year and it’s basically a full-time job. I worked in a state prison for that year and started to do more evaluations and treatment with a forensic population. I went back in 2018 and also completed two-year fellowship in Neuropsychology.

After I graduated, I changed jobs to another men’s prison for a year and half then moved over to the state hospital system. I currently work at Patton State Hospital, which is the largest state hospital in the country. This is a forensic hospital, meaning that the patients are there are different commitment codes. Some are there for competency restoration, while others are there because they were found “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” or are classified as “Offenders with a Mental Disability.” I’m in California but other states have similar commitment codes.

In addition to working at Patton, I also have a private practice where I complete forensic evaluations for criminal and civil cases and serve as an expert witness. I’m on the LA County Juvenile Expert Witness and Competency Panels.

How did you decide you wanted to become a forensic psychologist?

I decided to specialize in forensic psychology because it was the area that was most interesting to me. You have to not only know the mental health side but also the legal side. That aspect of the job was very intriguing for me. Depending on what side you are retained by (defense, prosecution, plaintiff, or court), you are there to provide your expert opinion on complex legal issues.

The field is challenging but also rewarding and fun. The evaluations I complete have a huge impact on the lives of those involved. For example, in a personal injury case, it can help the injured party get compensation or treatment. In a criminal case, the evaluation can help place the defendant in the correct treatment program or even catch defendants that are lying or exaggerating their mental illness for gaining special treatment. It’s also a specialization within psychology, so it allowed me a lot more opportunities once I left graduate school.

Describe some of the common tasks you perform as part of your job.

My job consists of completing evaluations, writing reports, and providing consultation to attorneys and the legal system as an expert witness. Evaluations consist of interviews, administering psychological or neuropsychological tests, reviewing records, writing the report, then testifying in court. In most cases, I don’t have to go to court. You usually end up in court if either side disagrees with your findings and wants to challenge them. In some cases, you have to go to court even if everyone agrees with what you said. It really depends on the specific case and the issues involved in that case.

What qualities and traits are necessary for someone who is successful in this job?

You have to have the right type of personality in this type of work. As a forensic psychologist, you’re going to be interviewing and interacting with people who have been accused of sometimes very heinous crimes (rape, murder, kidnapping, child abuse, sexual assault etc…) You might have to read very graphic police reports or look at graphic crime scenes. Not everyone can stomach or tolerate dealing with that type of content.

You need to have a high tolerance for stress but at the same time not allow your personal views to cloud your judgement. It’s important to always be objective in your work or else your credibility gets questioned and you’ll have a hard time being retained as an expert.

I think having a Type A personality is important in forensic work. Opposing counsel is always looking for a way to try to discredit your work and you need to be able to tolerate being criticized or called out. You also need to be ready to be a lifelong learner. The legal field changes constantly so you need to be willing to be up-to-date on case law, new rules/ procedures, and attend lots of continuing education classes throughout your career. The learning never stops.

You need to also be excellent with people skills, interviewing skills, and reading/report writing. It all comes down to how you write your reports. If you didn’t write it down, then it didn’t happen.

Why is the field of forensic psychology important/necessary?

This response is more catered to criminal forensic work. This field is important because our jails and prisons have become our mental health treatment facilities (at least in CA). Community mental health centers can’t keep up with the demand, so many individuals with mental illness end up not getting treatment and sometimes commit crimes that they would have never completed if they had proper treatment. Forensic psychologists help bridge that gap between the legal and mental health system. The work we do helps determine and influence who gets treatment and the type of treatment they should get. It also helps protect the public from individuals who have committed crimes and continue to pose a danger to society without appropriate treatment, monitoring, or supervision. The court system relies on our expert opinions to make their decisions.

Forensic Investigator Hypnotist | Training and Career Profile

Forensic Hypnotist

There are many ways to get information from a witness or victim, but what do you do if a witness or victim has buried their experiences in their subconscious? Hypnotism is one method used in courtrooms across the country to discover reliable testimony from witnesses. If you want to go into forensic hypnotism, you should be ready to delve into criminal justice law and master many different hypnosis techniques.

If you would like to apply hypnosis to help solve crimes, contact the schools in our directory to learn more about this interesting area of criminal justice!

Forensic Hypnotist Job Description

Generally, forensic hypnosis is used to recover memories or specific details of events. When a crime happens, people around take in all sorts of information: sights, sounds, smells, and more. However, minor details may often be forgotten as the brain tries to process an overwhelming amount of information. Those minor details can be the key to solving a crime, especially if a victim can remember a license plate number, a suspect’s tattoo, or another identifying characteristic.

You may need quite a bit of training if you want to get involved in this field. Forensic hypnotism is still a relatively new field that isn’t utilized in all parts of the country, so you may have to travel a bit to find a school that gives you training in this area. In addition, job openings may be limited to large or progressive police departments.

How to Become a Forensic Hypnotist

If you want to use hypnosis to help solve crimes and bring peace to victims, you’ll need quite a bit of extensive training. To start, you may want to get a degree in criminal justice. Even if you only want to work in hypnosis, it’s likely that you’ll be hired as a police officer, investigator, or crime scene technician first. From there, you can use your forensic hypnotism skills to begin making a name for yourself and prove your skills to your employer. As courts find more uses for forensic hypnotism, you may be able to spend more and more of your time on hypnosis cases.

Before you can study hypnotism techniques as they relate to forensic cases, you need a basic grasp of hypnotism. You can look into taking basic hypnotism courses through a local community college or a training seminar.

Once you have perfected your basic hypnosis abilities, you need to find a specialized forensic hypnosis course. There are some courses that you can take via video training, as well as those that have an in-person component. Your curriculum may cover a huge variety of hypnosis skills. You may start with basic subjects like the background of forensic hypnosis, the steps you must take during a forensic hypnosis session, and how sessions must be recorded for legal usage.

More advanced courses in your forensic hypnosis program may include Forensic Discovery for Therapy, Information Retrieval Techniques, Post-Hypnotic Suggestions, Legal Precedents of Forensic Hypnosis, and Composite Drawing in Forensic Hypnosis.

Though there are no certification requirements for forensic hypnotists, you may need to complete courses that are approved by your employer. That’s why it can be helpful to get started in criminal justice before studying hypnosis. Getting employed by a law enforcement agency may allow you to get your education paid for and ensure that you choose an approved course of study.

Forensic Hypnotist Salary and Career Outlook

Due to the highly specialized nature of this job, there is little information available on how many forensic hypnotists there are, how much money they earn, and what the job outlook is like. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that forensic science technicians earn an average salary of $57,850 as of May 2017.

In certain parts of the country, forensic science technicians may earn higher salaries. In New York, forensic science technicians earn an average of $68,510 per year. California forensic science technicians claim an average income of $82,650. In other areas, salaries are lower; in Texas, the average salary is $52,420 per year.

The BLS indicates that job growth for this field is high and, forensic hypnosis is gaining credibility and popularity throughout the country. As more courts and law enforcement agencies begin using forensic hypnosis to improve crime solving rates, the job outlook for forensic hypnotists should continue to improve.

Paul Kincade, a forensic hypnotist that works in Nevada, notes that forensic hypnosis is a field that can really contribute to the field of criminal justice. As a deputy sheriff, he used his hypnosis skills to solve dozens of cases. Hypnosis allowed people to pick attackers out of a lineup, remember a vehicle’s license plate, and identify an arson suspect. The testimony and evidence you collect may be used in conjunction with physical evidence.

You can plan on spending lots of time with crime victims and witnesses. You may work in court rooms, police departments, or other law enforcement agencies. It’s crucial to have a calming presence, since much of your work day may be spent with people who are traumatized as the result of violent crime. In addition, you must feel comfortable with law enforcement standards and laws. Unintentionally guiding a person’s testimony or placing images in their mind may lead their entire testimony to be discounted.

Since forensic hypnosis is not used in every case or even at every police department, you may have to travel to other agencies in the area. This may mean working with lots of different people and becoming familiar with different laws and regulations. This way, you can put your skills to use to help as many people as possible.

If you want to learn how you can work as a forensic hypnotist, contact the criminal justice schools in our complete directory to learn more today!