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Forensic Psychologist Career Guide

A career in forensic psychology is a fast-paced career that involves working closely with both criminals and victims of crime.

It is a diverse career, which offers lots of opportunity for progression. After completing both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree, forensic psychologists can work in anything from criminal profiling, child custody, training or rehabilitation.

Science gave us forensics. Law gave us crime.

Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Forensic Psychologist Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Overview

What does a forensic psychologist actually do?

Like all careers, the typical duties and responsibilities of a forensic psychologist depends greatly on who they are employed by.

However, typically forensic psychologists will use their psychological knowledge to assess, treat and support offenders, meaning they play a vital role in the conviction and sentencing of criminals. They also use their knowledge of psychological theories to support and treat the victims of crime.

Their main duties and responsibilities include:

  • Carrying out one-to-one assessments on criminals to assess the risk of  them re-offending, committing suicide, self-harming or  participating in other high-risk behaviour
  • Developing and implementing rehabilitation programmes for offenders, and then reviewing them once they are completed to evaluate their effectiveness
  • Conducting research projects to evaluate how various prison situations can affect the mental and physical well-being of prisoners
  • Conducting forensic offender profiling using statistical analysis, this can be used to help find and convict criminals
  • Deliver specialist training to forensic staff. This may include things such as stress management training or anti-bullying training
  • You will need to contribute to policy and strategy development to ensure that the forensic services offered keep on improving
  • Providing expert witness testimony at court, for parole boards and mental health tribunals
  • Working closely with the victims of crime, and their families, to support them

Why they are needed

Forensic psychologist play a unique role in the legal and justice system. They use their specialist knowledge to perform a variety of tasks, including threat assessment, child custody evaluations, competency evaluations of criminal defendants, counseling services, screening and selection of law enforcement applicants and the delivery and evaluation of intervention and treatment programs for juvenile and adult offenders. Such tasks ensure that both criminals and victims are treated fairly and help contribute to the justified running of the legal system.

The pros and cons of a career as an Forensic Psychologist

Pros:

  • A career as a forensic psychologist is a diverse career path, where there are lots of different career opportunities available and there is work available in both the public and private sector
  • No matter whether you’re working to support the criminal or the victim, the job will always involves helping someone and improving their life. This makes it an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career
  • As well as being rewarding and fulfilling, a career as a forensic psychologist is challenging, stimulating and thrill-seeking
  • There is little competition for forensic psychologist roles, and on top of this, there is a growing demand for forensic psychologists

Cons:

  • As a forensic psychologist, you can often work long hours. These hours can involve lots of  problem solving and emotionally exhausting, draining and challenging work
  • It can take time and commitment to become a forensic psychologist. More often than not, you will need to complete both a bachelor’s and a masters degree.
  • It can be an incredibly dangerous and stressful career as you will have to work with criminals, whilst working to meet deadlines and ensuring that all decisions and procedures are fair

Employability

Job market

According to RaiseMe, the projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026 is 14% for forensic psychology, which is faster than the average career. It doesn’t appear that the job market for forensic psychologists will slow down either, as there will always be criminals and victims who need assessment and support.

Career paths

The career path to becoming a forensic psychologist begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, or another related field. You will then need to earn a master’s degree, or equivalent, in forensic psychology. This will open you up to many entry-level opportunities.

However, to have more opportunities for success as a forensic psychologist, it would be wise to consider achieving a doctorate degree in a related field, especially if you wanted to go into academia.

Example Job Titles for Forensic Psychologist

Below is a list of common job titles in the Forensic Psychologist field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to PayScale, the average salary for a forensic psychologist in the States is $70,000 per annum. The top 10% earn over $102,000 and the lowest 10% will earn less than $39,000 per year.

Autonomy and flexibility

Like many careers, autonomy and flexibility increases with the more experience and knowledge you have. Due to the specialist, challenging and risky nature of a lot of the work, most entry level forensic psychologist positions will probably require you to be managed by someone and therefore have less flexibility and autonomy. However, there are many opportunities for progression into senior roles which have greater responsibility and decision control, meaning that you will have more autonomy and flexibility.

Locations and commute

In theory, wherever there are criminals and victims, there is a need for forensic psychologists. The type of work you want to get into depends on the location of the work. For example, criminal rehabilitation work is likely to available in lots of locations. Whereas criminal assessment or offender profiling is likely to be in bigger cities.

Work environment

Forensic psychologists tend to have excellent working conditions as they will work in offices or rehabilitation facilities. However, when working in prisons, this environment can be stressful.  They typically work in small teams where their co-workers are non-competitive, supportive and are working to achieve the same common goal.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Forensic Psychologist careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Forensic Psychologist career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Forensic Psychologist.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

The exact personality type of those who are successful as forensic psychologist is yet to be investigated. However, as you can imagine, you will need to score high on conscientiousness in order to meet assessment and court deadlines. Similarly, forensic psychologists will need to enjoy working with other, enjoy helping others, be empathetic and be emotionally stable in order to work with criminals and to support victims who are experiencing difficult times.

Accomplishment and mastery

As results can often be seen by the work of forensic psychologists, for example the correct person is convicted, criminals are successfully rehabilitated or victims feel at ease with their suffering, there is often a great sense of accomplishment.

What is more is that because the training to become a successful forensic psychologist is  lengthy, there is a strong sense of mastery once you achieve the knowledge and skills required to be considered an expert.

Meaning and contribution

The work of a forensic psychologists is incredibly meaningful: they play a crucial role in legal and justice systems to ensure the people are fairly convicted, but also that they are fairly treated, rehabilitated and cared for. They also provide support to victims of crime, which is very meaningful. Overall, the work of a forensic psychologists makes a great contribution to society.

Life fit

Forensic psychologists can work long hours. At entry-level positions, there will often be a strict working schedule. As you get more experience, you may have more control over your schedule but you will have more responsibility and trickier cases, so it may take up even more time.

Who will thrive?

You will thrive in a career as a forensic psychologist if you are someone who has sympathy for both criminals and victims, who has patience, enjoys working in fast-paced environments and can work in stressful situations.

If you are self-motivated, are willing to commit to education, prefers to have variety in their work and wants to work in a thrilling profession in the legal justice system, then we think you’ll thrive in a career as a forensic psychologist.

Who will struggle?

Those who lack empathy or patience are likely to struggle in the profession. There will be a lot of social interaction with some difficult people, so social skills are a necessity.

Requirements

Skills and talents

  • Communication skills are essential as a forensic psychologists will have to establish relationships with both offenders and victims and build trust
  • Problem solving and decision making skills are essential as forensic psychologists will have to make difficult decisions regarding offender assessments or rehabilitation programmes.
  • Oral and written communication skills are needed to communicate ideas clearly and confidently with other forensic staff or lawyers
  • Technological skills will also be useful as forensic psychologists will have to use analytical or scientific software, document management software and spreadsheet software
  • Leadership and teamwork skills are important as forensic psychologists often work closely with others in small teams

Education

To become a forensic psychologist requires extensive studying. First, you will need a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field.

After achieving a bachelor’s degree, you will typically need a master’s in forensic psychology. Once you have achieved this, you can then begin applying for jobs! However, many successful forensic psychologists  achieve a doctoral degree in order to have more opportunities and career progression.

Certificates

Licensing requirements for forensic psychologists varies by state, so be sure to check the guidelines for the state you intend to practice in. Most forensic psychologists choose to become board certified through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) as this is an essential requirement to be able to testify in court.

How to Become

Summary

A forensic psychologist is a career that involves working closely with criminals to correctly convict and rehabilitate them. Forensic psychologists also work closely with victims to provide support.

It is a diverse career, offering lots of room for specialization and progression. After completing both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree, forensic psychologists can work in anything from criminal profiling, child custody, training or rehabilitation.

Good forensic psychologists are in increasing demand and this is unlikely to slow down. This means that there are job available in a wide range of locations.

Immediate action

Sounds like something you’re interested in doing? Great!

Well, Like many careers, to get your foot in the door, it is always advisable to seek an internships or relevant work experience whilst completing your undergraduate and/or postgraduate degree. Work experience can even include things such as police force work, social work, counselling or working in a rehabilitation centre.

Education and learning

To become a forensic psychologist, you will need to complete an undergraduate degree in psychology, and then at least a master’s degree in forensic psychology. However, many forensic psychologists go on to achieve a doctorate degree, as this gives them more opportunities and a greater understanding.

Skill development

To develop the skills needed to become a forensic psychologist, you should consider getting relevant work experience in the field. This can include roles in rehabilitation centres, the police force, counselling services or social work. This will teach you the communication, problem solving and empathy needed to become successful as a forensic psychologist.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Forensic Psychologist careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

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