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What is a Forensic Psychologist?

forensic psychologyIf you’re fascinated with studying the human mind but wish to work in law enforcement rather than clinical practice, then becoming a forensic psychologist could be ideal. Thanks to TV series like Criminal Minds, forensic psychology has rapidly become more popular since its founding in the 1940s, according to Psychology Today. Forensic psychologists are now revered as expert court witnesses who apply their psychological training to legal matters. At the intersection of psychology and criminal justice, forensic psychologists devote their careers to better understanding why people commit crimes and how crime can be prevented. There are currently around 3,000 forensic psychologists in the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS), but this number grows every year. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the job description of a forensic psychologist.

What Forensic Psychologists Do

Forensic psychologists assist in providing mental health assessments to offenders in both criminal and civil court hearings. Depending on their assigned cases, forensic psychologists may provide mental state examinations for insanity pleas, assess the risk for violence on parole, evaluate the validity of personal injury claims, perform child custody evaluations, select a proper jury, or offer psychotherapy services to crime victims. Some work directly with attorneys to prepare criminal cases and testify in court under oath. Forensic psychologists may be involved in criminal profiling to help bring justice in unsolved investigations. Other forensic psychologists focus in research to enhance science’s knowledge on criminal offenders’ traits and behaviors.

Where Forensic Psychologists Work

There are several different work settings that aspiring forensic psychology professionals can choose from to impact the criminal justice field. Forensic psychologists are most commonly seen working in police stations, law enforcement agencies, law firms, and courthouses. Yet, forensic psychologists can work in jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers to provide inmates with rehabilitative treatment before their release. Forensic psychologists may be hired by government agencies or private laboratories to conduct their criminal research. Some work at universities or colleges to research crimes while teaching coursework on forensic psychology. It’s also possible for forensic psychologists to be self-employed as consultants to give their expert opinion on certain criminal cases.

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminal justice, criminology, law enforcement, or a closely related field, future forensic psychologists will need to attend graduate school. In most cases, forensic psychologists must possess a doctoral degree to become licensed and respected in the court system. Earning a master’s degree may be required first, but a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is your goal. It’s best to choose a university with a forensic psychology specialization to make certain your internship will be in a criminal justice setting. After graduation, forensic psychologists must obtain state licensing and should consider board certification. The American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) offers a Diploma in Forensic Psychology for those with 1,000 hours of practical field experience.

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Overall, forensic psychologists apply psychological science to resolving questions and issues related to the legal system. Forensic psychology is an applied branch focused on providing key testimony, assessment, analysis, and recommendations within criminal or civil cases. There’s a long pathway towards a career in forensic psychology, but it’s worth it to many who are fascinated by the criminal mind. You’ll need to fine-tune your legal knowledge, communication abilities, and critical thinking skills to successfully work as a forensic psychologist.

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