Is becoming a forensic psychologist right for me?

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How to become a Forensic Psychologist

Television shows like ‘Criminal Minds’ have glamorized forensic psychology by depicting often exaggerated situations and cases. However, the field is undeniably exciting, with huge job growth potential. Qualified forensic psychologists apply their expertise in the areas of criminal investigation and law. Opportunities exist in the court system, in business, and in private practice as consultants.

Individuals pursuing this career should make sure that their education is focused on psychology, criminology, and forensics. A student can either earn a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology with a focus on Criminology or Criminal Justice, or earn a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice or Criminology with a focus on Psychology. Courses may include forensics, abnormal psychology, and the psychology of deviance.

A bachelor's degree, however, is often not enough to pursue a forensic psychology career. Master's and Doctoral Degrees in Forensic Psychology are usually necessary.

This is the typical path to becoming a Forensic Psychologist:

Declare a Psychology major and complete core psychology courses, such as:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Behavioral Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Biological Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Statistical Methods
  • Psychology Seminar
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Law
  • Developmental Psychology

Consider a specialty
Take related foundational courses, and start forming thesis ideas. The field of forensic psychology has given birth to several subspecialty disciplines, focused on consultation with criminal courts, consultation with juvenile courts, consultation with family courts, investigative psychology, correctional psychology, police psychology, and military psychology.

Criminal Subspecialty
Forensic psychologists consulting with criminal courts will be involved in numerous psycho-legal activities, including an array of forensic mental health assessments (FMHAs). The most common forensic health assessment involves the competency to stand trial or ‘adjudicative competency assessment.’ One area within this subspecialty which needs further research is the request of courts to forensic psychologists to assess the risk and danger of a particular offender to society, commonly referred to as risk assessment.

Juvenile Subspecialty
Common tasks for forensic psychologists consulting with juvenile courts include forensic mental health assessments to measure adjudicative competency, overall intellectual functioning, and cognitive ability to have rights waived during interview with law enforcement. Unlike adult criminal courts, which may be focused on incarceration and fines, juvenile courts give greater precedent to treatment options. This may require additional involvement of forensic psychologists for assessments and recommendations, as well as the facilitation of psychotherapeutic treatment methods.

Civil Subspecialty
Forensic psychologists consulting with civil courts will interact primarily with family, divorce, child custody, probate, and other non-criminal courts. Civil courts involved in lawsuits or torts may call upon forensic psychologists to assess emotional or psychological damage in personal injury, sexual harassment, and employment compensation claims.

Investigative Subspecialty
Investigative psychologists may be involved in psychological sketching to identify persons more likely to commit a particular offense; criminal profiling to identify traits and descriptors based on the characteristics of a crime; psychological autopsies in equivocal death cases; forensic hypnosis to help a witness recall information; developing and deploying methods of pre-trial identification of suspects by witnesses; and polygraph examinations and other functions where psychology benefits an investigative function.

Correctional Subspecialty
According to the American Association for Correction and Forensic Psychology, a wide spectrum of services is provided by forensic psychologists in correctional settings. These include administrative consultation; psychological screening, assessment, and training of prison employees; offender and initial inmate screening, assessment, and classification; treatment of prisoners with mental illnesses; crisis intervention; release assessment; and competency for treatment, rehabilitation, and execution.

Police Subspecialty
A police psychologist typically has five roles: Assist police departments in determining optimal shift schedules for their employees. Assist police in developing psychological profiles of serial offenders. Establish reliable and valid screening procedures for law enforcement positions. Train police officers on how to deal with mentally ill citizens. Provide counselling services to officers after shooting incidents.

Take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) - the most commonly required admissions test for graduate school

Network with and obtain reference letters - from professors and other professionals in the field.

Choose a graduate school

Select a thesis topic

Find an internship - with a prison, juvenile detention center, research institute, government program, or medical setting