True crime has become one of the most popular genres of podcasts, TV shows, and documentaries throughout the United States. We all want to see what makes people tick, even people who commit crimes. But what if you could spend your time working with criminals and tying your interests of psychology and the law?
You can, as a forensic psychologist. Forensic psychology, recognized as a specialty in 2001, is the study of human behavior as it relates to the legal system. Not everyone with a specialty in this field has the same job: while some forensic psychologists may be working directly with offenders to help them transition back into society, others may be taking the stand to share their knowledge in criminal and civil cases. If you are interested in both how the mind works and how our legal system works, keep reading.
What does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
A Forensic Psychologist offers professional psychological help to a legal team working on a case. Their duties involve performing research about a case and offering their opinion as expert advice in court.
The job duties for a forensic psychologist range depending on the position and the location of the job. A forensic psychologist may serve as a professional witness, offering their insight on the human mind to determine whether a person acted with intention or was affected by certain mood disorders. They may also work with child witnesses who are preparing to take the stand. A psychologist may be brought onto a legal team as a consultant to determine whether a potential witness is competent to take the stand.
Their services don’t just stay in the courtroom, either. Forensic psychologists may work with offenders or people awaiting trial. They may offer mental health services themselves or lead a group of professionals to conduct these services. People awaiting trial or who are serving jail sentences can be seriously affected mentally. A forensic psychologist may determine if a person needs to be put on a suicide watch, for example. They may also assess whether they can receive a visitation from friends and family.
A forensic psychologist needs to apply their knowledge of psychology and human behavior to legal matters and criminal investigations. But first, they need to gather that knowledge. Forensic psychologists typically earn a Ph.D. or PsyD and finish a certain number of hours of training before they receive their license to practice. These requirements vary by state.
Depending on the specific job, a forensic psychologist will also need to complete a number of years working as a forensic psychologist. Working in jail, for example, can be more intense than working at their own office with clients who choose to attend therapy themselves. Forensic psychologists may have to prepare to restrain clients or de-escalate situations. Jobs may require that this experience is recognized by the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) with a certification.
It is possible to earn a six-figure salary as a forensic psychologist, but it should not be expected by everyone who aspires to hold this job. The average salary for this job is just over $70,000 a year. The range will depend on your location and how long you have been working in the field. Entry-level forensic psychologists can expect to earn around $50,000 a year with full benefits. Forensic psychologists may also decide to work for themselves, earning money as a consultant.
Here is a list of Forensic Psychologist Salary compiled from a few different resources:
Forensic Psychologist Reported Salaries
US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Schools for Forensic Psychology Degrees
There are many ways to earn a doctorate while specializing in forensics. If you are interested in exploring this program, add these schools to your list:
- CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice (New York, New York)
- Walden University (Minneapolis, MN)
- University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)
- George Washington University (Washington DC)
- The University of Puerto Rico – Carolina (Carolina, PR)
- Alliant International University – San Diego (San Diego,CA)
- Saint Leo University (Saint Leo, FL)
- University of Denver (Denver, CO)
- Roger Williams University (Bristol, RI)
- University of California – Irving (Irving, CA)
Companies That Hire Forensic Psychologists
Various institutions and organizations are looking for forensic psychologists. Here are some major employers that hire Forensic Psychologists:
- State hospitals
- Private jails
- Law firms
- Insurance companies
State and local governments are often looking for people to fit this position. But you do not have to work with criminal law in order to fulfill your duties. A large company may hire a forensic psychologist to assess whether someone can go back to their position after a traumatic experience, including or not including time in prison.
Interviews from a Forensic Psychologist
Want to hear from a forensic psychologist about their journey? Read this interview with Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychologist and author. You can also watch a few interviews with forensic psychologists on YouTube, here is one:
One video many people find helpful is this “day in the life” style video:
Here is an interesting video about spotting psychopath behavior, with Dr. Darrel Turner:
Famous Forensic Psychologists
The first psychologist you might think of when you think of psychology and crime is Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice was training to work with the FBI at the time as a psychologist. The movie, which premiered in 1991, didn’t call Starling a forensic psychologist, but it’s important to remember that forensic psychology was not a recognized speciality until 2001.
Although forensic psychologists as we recognize them now are often found on crime shows, they have been an influential role in the shaping of psychology and how it can help us understand the world and make the world a safer place. Alfred Binet, known for developing the world’s first intelligence tests, is considered one of the fathers of forensic psychology.
Other psychologists’ research has made them a leading figure in forensic psychology. Take Stanley Milgram, known for his controversial obedience study. Without this insight into how people obey orders from others, “duress” may not be a valid defense in criminal cases.
Forensic psychologists, although many worked without that title have also been involved in many of the country’s most notable court cases. Mamie Phipps Clark was a psychologist who testified in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education. Her research into racial identity helped to end segregation throughout the country. Her work took place 50 years before forensic psychology was recognized as a specialization throughout the United States.
Forensic Psychology Examples
What does a forensic psychologist do every day? Well, the answer isn’t so simple. Depending on your position and how certain cases have moved along, you may have many different tasks ahead of you, including:
- Child Custody Evaluations
- Screening of Law Enforcement Officers
- Offering Insanity Plea Opinion
- Treatment of Criminal Offenders
- Designing and Updating Correctional Programs
- Collaboration with Behavioral Analysis Teams
Interested in learning more about forensic psychology, from the real people who have made the subject their career? Check out the ForensicPsychology subreddit for ongoing discussions on forensic psychology.