In the timeline of psychology, forensic psychology is relatively new. While this field has been popularized on TV and in movies, the manner in which forensic psychologists are portrayed often deviates from what actually occurs in real life.
If we were to define forensic psychology, it would be along the lines of the application of clinical psychology in legal matters. This includes using psychological principles to explain criminality, create criminal profiles, prepare witnesses for courtroom testimony, and assess and treat individuals that are involved in the criminal justice system.
As a forensic psychology student, you will take traditional psychology courses like cognitive psychology, social psychology, and experimental psychology. But you will also take forensic psychology as well as criminology, criminal justice, and ethics, to name a few.
A critical part of your education as a forensic psychology student is your internship.
While many schools require an internship as part of graduation requirements, many other schools do not. If your school does not require an internship, it’s still a good idea to seek one out.
Why Internships are a Good Idea
Not only do internships give you the opportunity to learn about your field in the real world, but they also give you a chance to hone the skills you’ve learned in class while developing new skills from your fieldwork. Internships also give you a chance to develop connections with other people in the field.
In some cases, an internship might lead to employment at the agency where you serve as an intern. But even if it doesn’t, you can come away with on-the-job experience and recommendations from your supervisors that can help you get a job with another employer.
More than that, an internship is a great opportunity to see what aspect of forensic psychology interests you the most. For example, you might have a particular interest evaluating people of accused crimes. But over the course of your internship, you might find that using your skills to help prepare witnesses for court testimony is your true passion. In this regard, an internship can help you clarify the direction you wish to go with your career or future educational pursuits.
To help you establish a plan, below is a list of some of the most common and popular types of internships for psychology majors.
Prison internships are one option for students studying forensic psychology.
According to the American Psychological Association, prison internships often come with a high stipend, which can be as much as $40,000. Stipends let interns earn income while working in the field, but the competition for these positions is often quite high. Nevertheless, it is a great reason to consider this type of internship.
Some students worry about working with inmates, specifically, about their personal safety while working in a prison setting. However, prison facilities do a good job of protecting workers. Your work might be directly supervised by a prison counselor, so you likely wouldn’t ever be alone with an inmate. Guards are stationed throughout the prison as well.
In some cases, a prison internship might be more in the administrative realm. So, rather than working one-on-one with inmates or participating in group sessions with inmates, you might be assigned to work in an office area, such as the warden’s office.
Prison internships aren’t all in high-security prisons, either. In fact, there are internship possibilities in low and medium-security prisons, women’s prisons, and juvenile detention centers. In some areas, you might be able to work with specific populations, like inmates convicted of drug offenses or domestic violence.
Regardless of the particular setting, a prison internship offers you a unique opportunity. On the one hand, you can get experience working with a population that you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to work with. Working with various populations will help you refine your skills and generalize them to a wide range of people and mental health conditions.
On the other hand, a prison internship also represents a chance to help people in a very salient manner. For example, you might work with an inmate who has a history of drug offenses. By identifying their triggers for drug use and helping them develop refusal skills, you can help them stay clean while also reducing the likelihood of the inmate relapsing upon their release.
While many forensic psychology internships are offered by law enforcement agencies, there are also many options to intern for law offices that represent the accused.
An internship in a law office would likely involve working closely with attorneys on tasks related to preparing witnesses for testimony, interviewing witnesses, and conducting mental health assessments on the client.
Furthermore, as an intern in a law office, you would likely have the opportunity to learn how to conduct legal research, write forensic reports, and assist attorneys in matters like guardianships and involuntary commitments of mentally ill clients.
Amongst all of this, legal interns participate in literature reviews, data analysis, and reading legal opinions. You would likely observe court cases and attend legal training as well.
As working in the forensic psychology field requires an advanced degree, many students find themselves drawn to counseling programs that take place in medical settings. These programs require a graduate degree or a doctorate degree, and internships in the field help students decide if this is a suitable career path.
Positions usually involve working in drug and alcohol treatment programs. Those sentenced to these programs broke the law in some way, and the court opted for therapy and treatment over jail time.
As part of a medical internship experience, you might help run different programs and sessions that focus on why those patients made the choices they did. For example, you might assist in overseeing group therapy sessions in which group members explore their past to pinpoint the choices and circumstances that led to their arrest.
Additionally, forensic psychology internships in the medical field often involve learning about assessment and intervention procedures for clients that have drug and alcohol problems. For example, you could use what you’ve learned about evidence-based clinical interventions and use those interventions in helping individual clients get and stay clean.
Many of these internships also have a heavy research component. For example, you might engage in research regarding the link between substance abuse and criminal behavior. As another example, you might explore state and federal anti-drug projects and evaluate their efficacy in stemming the tide of drug use in prison populations.
In some instances, you will also participate in activities that are directly related to the courts. You might sit in on hearings to determine a defendant’s ability to stand trial. You might also participate in risk assessments of individuals that are seeking to be released on bond or parole.
The United States government runs a number of internships for those taking forensic psychology courses.
On the one hand, the government runs several federal prisons, and they need students to help conduct assessments on inmates, research pertinent mental health topics related to prison populations and help run the facility in an administrative role.
On the other hand, students can also find internships available from different branches of the military, though these programs often look for students who are currently enrolled in the military or were previously enrolled.
Another option is to intern with an agency like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In this role, you might study methods that might help minimize the impact of substance abuse on rural communities. Likewise, you might help in developing new programs to provide services to underserved communities that disproportionately suffer from mental health issues, like the homeless.
There are a wealth of other options for interning as a forensic psychology student in the federal government. Below is a list of some of the federal agencies that commonly have internship placements in this field:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Drug Enforcement Agency
- United States Department of State
- United States Department of Homeland Security
- United States Marshals Service
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
- Naval Criminal Intelligence Service
While many students find that the government has more requirements for its internships and they face more competition, the positions look good on any resume. Interns have a greater chance of finding a job in the public or private sector after finishing a government internship.
Law Enforcement Internships
Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies often have internships available in forensic psychology. This makes sense given that forensic psychology is all about applying psychological principles to the criminal justice system.
There are many different tasks and activities you might be assigned in a law enforcement internship. You might be asked to help assess the state of mind of the accused at the time of the alleged offense. You might also aid in determining a person’s ability to stand trial.
Other tasks include assessing the risk of an offender committing another crime, assessing the credibility of a witness, and preparing law enforcement workers for providing testimony in court. You might also be asked to work with victims of crime and evaluate their mental state, address trauma, and prepare them for court testimony as well.
Of course, all of these activities would be monitored and supervised closely by law enforcement as well as a master’s or doctoral-level forensic psychologist.
In the past, many companies and organizations looking for interns only hired those in a doctoral program. However, those same employers now want people in graduate programs.
A large number of these graduate-level internships are available through research facilities, which look at data relating to different groups of people as well as criminality. Students learn how to analyze that data and reach conclusions that the organization can then share with the public.
The topics of research are virtually endless. While many internships focus on forensic psychology directly, many others are available in areas such as:
- Law enforcement
- Business and marketing
- Cognitive psychology
- Social psychology
- Criminal justice
An internship in a research field is a great idea because of the opportunity to get so much research experience. Research is a critical component of forensic psychology, so having real-world experiences in conducting research can make you a more attractive candidate for a job after graduation.
Private Practice Internships
For example, you might assist a forensic psychologist in conducting interviews with clients who are involved in class-action lawsuits or personal injury cases. The work, in this case, would revolve around helping the client get comfortable testifying about the harm they’ve suffered. As an intern, you would likely learn about the intricacies of helping select jury members for a civil or criminal proceeding as well.
As another example, you might be asked to help consult with a local law enforcement agency regarding the truthfulness of a claim of abuse against the accused. These types of consultations can occur with any manner of agency or organization and in both civil and criminal courts. Forensic psychologists in private practice can even consult in military court matters, so as an intern, you could help in research, assessment, and other duties for a military court proceeding.
Selecting the Right Forensic Psychology Internship
With more internships available now than ever before, you have the opportunity to network in the forensic psychology field and make contacts that you can use when searching for post-college jobs.
Whether your interests lie in law enforcement, law, research, academics, or somewhere in between, there is likely an internship that fits your needs. As with anything, though, you need to do your due diligence and explore many different internship options. Internships are highly competitive, so having three or four choices is prudent in case your first choices don’t pan out.
Whatever your internship looks like, though, you have an excellent opportunity to get real world experience and further hone your forensic psychology skills. As noted earlier, this is a process that can help you zero in on a specialty you’d like to pursue. Likewise, internships can help you make connections with people in this line of work, which can lead to employment after graduation. There are simply too many benefits of an internship to not participate in one!
B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming
M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming
B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts
Updated April 2021