Television shows like “Criminal Minds” have glamorized forensic psychology. While many situations depicted are exaggerated, the new field of psychology is exciting and job growth is huge. Still, there are pros and cons to becoming a forensic psychologist.
What is a Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists apply the principles of psychology to the field of criminal investigation and law. They work within the court system, in business or in private practice as consultants. Some of the responsibilities of forensic psychologists listed at About.com are:
• Working within family courts to help resolve child custody issues, investigate abuse, provide some psychotherapy and assess visitation risks
• Working within the civil court system they help determine competency, provide second opinions and sometimes offer psychotherapy to crime victims
• Assessing mental competency and fitness to stand trial within criminal courts
• Working in the justice system for the defense or for the prosecution
• Serving as consultants in private practice
What Is the Downside of Becoming a Forensic Psychologist
According to the American Psychological Association practitioners need a doctorate in psychology to get an entry level job. That means five to seven years of post-graduate education before the certification process begins. Until a professional has experience and a reputation, he may be relegated to part-time work. Bachelor of Psychology and Master’s degrees earn you the title of “associate” or “assistant” forensic psychologist. In addition to the extensive education required, practitioners can put in 18-hour days and be on call at any hour. Sometimes the work involves quickly-arranged travel. Another downside to the field is the salary. Though well-known private practice consultants can earn salaries of $200,000 or more, doctoral psychologists often start at $60,000 or less. Non-PhDs can begin at $35,000. Ethics is another “con” to forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists must often take sides in cases, just as attorneys do. For example, they work with one side or the other to help seat favorable juries. That kind of dilemma results in stress, which is another “con” to the field of forensic psychology. Frustration in the profession leads to a high rate of burnout.
What are the “Pros” to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist
The field of forensic psychology offers a diverse career path. The list at the beginning of this article might be expended at any time by new applications of the discipline. Forensic psychologists can work in the public or private sector, but the profession generally involves helping someone. The field is challenging and stimulating, and even offers some risk to thrill-seekers. Some forensic psychologists assess dangerous criminals. Another up-side to the profession is that there is a high degree of satisfaction at the successful end of a case. Forensic psychologists in private practice do not have to struggle with insurance companies and managed care the way other psychologists might. Salaries are high for those with experience and a good reputation, though they may not be enough to compensate for the expense and time given to getting the required education.
Forensic Psychology is not the profession depicted on “Criminal Minds,” but it is an exciting field. People considering the career path should carefully weigh the pros and cons.