Thanks largely to the proliferation of TV shows in recent years such as CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and others, the field of forensics has never been more popular as a profession. And among the most popular aspects of the forensic sciences is forensic psychology.
What is Forensic Psychology?
Generally speaking, forensic psychology is where psychology meets the criminal justice system. Unlike the sensationalized portrayals often seen on television, forensic psychologists don’t spend their days working with investigators to deduce the actions of a criminals next move. Instead, for the most part, forensic psychologists are considered experts in their area of expertise, primarily to be used as experts in court who translate psychological findings into the legal language of the courtroom. Note that not all of those working in the area of forensic psychology are not forensic psychologists. These are better called clinical psychologists, who work with patients more directly and exclusively.
A forensic psychologist also differs from other types of psychologists in that their work is relatively short and less extensive in duration, such as when they are appointed by the court to determine whether a suspect is mentally capable of understanding the charges against them or are mentally capable of standing trial.
The Best Training
Much like lawyers and other types of professionals, there are few degrees available exclusively in forensic psychology. Instead, those who wish to enter the field of forensic psychology normally do so by earning degrees in general psychology, then take coursework and gain experience in the field. It is important to point out that in addition to degrees and other coursework, each state licenses psychologists, regardless of their specialty.
It is also important to know that those who wish to practice as forensic psychologists often earn their certifications from the American Board of Forensic Psychology and/or the American Academy of Forensic Psychology.
After a psychologist has earned their degree, most likely a doctorate, but sometimes a master’s degree, they may choose to select a sub-specialty to practice. These sub-specialties include:
It is also important to point out that in the field of forensic psychology the concern is not on providing therapy. Instead, the emphasis is on providing objective evaluations which allows the courts to determine their courses of action. This is a large part of the reason why forensic psychologists must be intimately familiar with the legal system, its language, procedures, and other nuances in order to work effectively with it. A forensic psychologist is just as likely to work for the defense as well as the prosecution of a defendant. For this reason, a forensic psychologist can be called upon to work in any number of environments, from a courtroom to a mental institution, or a jail or prison. It is also important to note that due to the nature of their work, forensic psychologists work on the “dark side” of people, those who have been accused of crimes and other wrongdoing. As a result, there is little resolution of these cases. Instead, the forensic psychologist works to identify abnormal traits and present them to the criminal justice system for trial.
Regardless of the specialty pursued by a forensic psychologist, those who enter the field are virtually guaranteed a career of exciting and interesting work that is of critical importance in the effective delivery of justice.