Forensic Psychology FAQ
A forensic psychologist has typically completed either a master's or doctorate degree and uses their education and psychology knowledge to delve into criminal behavior. They strive to understand what makes some people commit crimes, and they work with the criminal justice and legal systems in their communities to evaluate criminals and consult with attorneys. Learn what it takes to become a forensic psychologist, what they do, where they conduct work, and how much they make each year.
What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
When it comes to job duties, forensic psychologists take on a lot of responsibility that varies from day to day depending on their caseload. They may question suspects in a criminal investigation to determine if they're mentally competent enough to stand trial one day and determine if a criminal will commit future crimes another day. Some work with children in school settings while others help kids prepare to testify in court.
Most of the work is about understanding a person's mental state at the time they were suspected of committing the crime and helping to prevent future crimes. Other duties may include:
- Researching and studying professional research in the field constantly
- Evaluating witness credibility
- Evaluating insurance claims
- Assessing child custody in divorce cases
- Investigating child abuse reports
- Offering testimony in court cases or civil lawsuits
- Assessing factual information from various sources
- Consulting on mental health issues with attorneys and court officials
- Creating correctional programs
- Advising the police on criminal psychology or mental illnesses
- Providing psychotherapy services to family court cases
What Are Some Forensic Psychologist Jobs?
Careers in forensic psychology have rapidly grown in recent years thanks to technological advancements. Today, there are varying types of jobs in forensic psychology.
The following list dives into the most popular forensic psychology careers:
- Clinical counseling - Within the area of clinical psychology, you may find positions in counseling, school psychology, or neuropsychology. These positions typically work as experts in their field and use their expertise to help the judicial system, but they can also work in family assessment or in-home care.
- Case management - Case managers teach a client problem-solving and conflict resolution skills to help them interact in the community better. They often work in residential treatment facilities and offer counseling services.
- Expert Witness - Knowledgeable professionals are needed to weigh in during court proceedings, and expert witnesses often provide testimony on an individual's mental state.
- Administration - Administrative tasks help agencies run smoothly, and these jobs are often found in the juvenile court system or correctional facilities. You can become a clinical director, manager, or program director to carry out policy-making responsibilities and train staff. For these positions, you may be eligible with just a bachelor's degree.
- Research - Researchers focus on issues that relate to the judicial system, with a large focus on science. A PhD is usually required for this field.
- Education - College professors teach forensic psychology in a university or college setting, and they often conduct research into the field. A master's degree may allow you to teach in some states, but a graduate degree is usually required.
Where do Forensic Psychologists Work?
Not all forensic psychologists work in the court system, although many do find courthouse jobs. While many provide services that are vital for the criminal justice and legal systems, some forensic psychologists find jobs working in research centers, universities, hospitals, doctor's offices, police departments, prisons and jails, or forensic labs. Others choose to be self-employed as independent consultants.
Who are Some Famous Forensic Psychologists?
Popular professionals in the field include the following:
- Henry Lee - One of the most affluential names in the field, Lee is internationally known for his work on multiple high-profile cases, including the cases of O.J. Simpson, John F. Kennedy, and Laci Peterson.
- Kate Termini - A clinical psychologist in New York, Termini serves as a consultant and psychologist to Brooklyn's Mental Health Court. She's appeared on the TV shows The Deadliest Decade and Six Degree of Murder.
- David Wilson - Known for his knowledge and expertise on serial killers, Wilson has written over 15 books on serial murders and British prison systems. He regularly appears on TV and radio.
- William Stern - Considered one of the fathers of psychology, Stern invented the IQ test and conducted ground-breaking studies on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.
- Valerie Jenness - Dean of the School of Social Ecology and professor of criminology, Jenness is known for her research on hate crimes, prostitution, and prison violence. She has written four books that are global sensations and honored by the American Sociological Association.
What Hours do Forensic Psychologists Work?
A forensic psychologist's schedule varies depending on where they work. However, most forensic psychologists find roles in prisons during normal work hours. They typically work five days per week, from nine to five each day. Some weekend or evening hours may also be required occasionally.
How much do Forensic Psychologists Make?
Forensic psychologists' salaries range based on employer and education, even for entry-level positions. Some geographic locations also have a higher demand for professionals in this career, and they will often offer competitive salaries for qualified applicants. Salaries in psychology vary.
Beginners in the field usually hold a bachelor's or master's degree and find jobs as a psychological assistant or associate. According to the BLS, the average salary for all psychologists in 2017 was $77,030, with jobs increasing faster than the national average at 14% by the year 2026.
Salaries vary based on experience and the type of location you work in as well. Some forensic psychologists find jobs in research, where the annual mean wage is $96,230 per year (BLS 2018). Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, on the other hand, only make an average salary of $77,430 but find that working with children is its own reward. More experienced forensic psychologists may also find a career in a federal setting and earn an average pay of $92,640, whereas working in an outpatient care center or hospital averages around $88,000 per year (BLS 2018).