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 Overview

A criminal or forensic psychologist is a professional that studies the behaviors and thoughts of criminals. Interest in this career field has grown dramatically in recent years thanks to a number of popular television programs that depict fictionalized criminal psychologists, such as such as Criminal Minds and CSI.  The profession could be defined as the intersection between psychology and the justice system.

Generally, a forensic psychologist is designated as an expert in a specific field of study. The number of areas of expertise in which a forensic psychologist qualifies as an expert increases with experience and reputation. Forensic neuropsychologists are generally asked to appear as expert witnesses in court to discuss cases that involve issues with the brain or brain damage. They may also deal with issues of whether a person is legally competent to stand trial. Questions asked by the court of a forensic psychologist are generally not questions regarding psychology but are legal questions and the response must be in language the court understands. For example, a forensic psychologist is frequently appointed by the court to assess a defendant’s competence to stand trial. The court also frequently appoints a forensic psychologist to assess the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the offense.

Education

There are four year bachelor’s programs offered in this field, namely John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York city. Their forensic psychology major is designed for students who are interested in the relationship between psychology and the criminal justice system. The mission of the Forensic Psychology major is to enhance students’ understanding of individual behavior, in terms of its biological, cognitive, social and emotional components and their interaction, and its effects on the broader community. Students will learn to employ an empirical approach to understand human behavior.

Core courses at John Jay involve:

  • Cognitive, Social, Developmental, and Abnormal Psychology
  • Research Methods
  • Psychology and the Law
  • Brain and Behavior
  • Learning and Memory
  • Theories of Personality

This is a partial list of the core program for the inquisitive student to gain a perspective of the bachelor’s level courses.

To open more employment doors, a Masters degree is highly recommended in this specialized arena of psychology. There are a plethora of Master’s programs throughout the United States. One example is Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This school has a Masters of Science in Forensic Psychology enabling students to choose the General Program or from a range of specializations. The General Program’s curriculum consists of a total of 47 credits taking an estimated 1.5 years to complete.

Those holding master’s degree in clinical psychology typically work under the direction of a psychologist with a doctorate degree. Because forensic psychologists holding master’s degrees typically make less money than their colleagues with PhDs, they often work at prisons and other correctional facilities. Forensic psychologists with master’s degrees in social, cognitive, or developmental psychology typically have better job opportunities than those with degrees in clinical fields since they can assess inmates.

Licensure

As in many professions, Specialty Board Certification in Forensic Psychology signifies that an individual has met the established standards for the profession as maintained and protected by an organization that the field recognizes for that role.  The organization entrusted with that role regarding board certification in Forensic Psychology is the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which attests that the certified professional possesses a high level of professional competence in the specialty area.  The Forensic Psychology Specialist has been found to have the ability to articulate clearly the theoretical, ethical, and legal foundations for his or her work in forensic psychology.

Prior to applying for board certification, one must have a doctoral degree from a program in professional psychology from an accredited school. The doctoral degree program is expected to meet the requirements listed by the ABPP Generic Doctoral Program Eligibility Requirements.

Employment

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has one category for psychologists- listing their median income at $69,280 as of 2012. The projected job growth rate is 12% or a change in approximately 18,700 positions through 2022.

Job growth in the field of forensic psychology has remained steady for 20 years. It’s projected that during the next decade demand for forensic psychologists specializing in research, clinical practice, and consultation will increase. Job growth for forensic psychologists consulting with elected officials, courts, and lawyers is projected to increase the most.