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Forensic psychologists use their knowledge of how the brain works to the field of criminal justice. The word 'forensic' means applying science to the investigation of crime. Merging the two areas, law enforcement and psychology, requires advanced education and a high level of curiosity about what makes people tick.

It is an offshoot of psychology with its own organizations and training programs. Interest in this field has increased with rising crime rates and with true crime television dramas like CSI. Those in the field of forensic psychology work with criminals, lawyers, victims, mental health organizations and jails.

What We Do

Forensic psychologists study the research connected with crime and criminals, analyze it and apply their findings to specific situations or to the more general academic field.

Some people following this career path study crime scenes, find evidence, and develop criminal profiles. They often act as expert witnesses at trials, giving their opinion about whether or not a criminal was involved in the crime in question. They are the ones to perform examinations of defendants for insanity and competency questions.

They work with victims, helping them cope, and also work in mental health facilities and in the jail system. Others are involved in child custody and family law situations, assess the risk of violence, work with lawyers in personal injury cases and help with jury selection.

Why It's Hot

There is high interest in the field of forensic psychology. Wildly popular shows like Criminal Minds and CSI have made it trendy, though, at times, they exaggerate the work done. The public fascination with crime keeps growing. As crime levels rise, there are more openings for skilled practitioners in the field.

In addition, the field has been invigorated by the entry of many clinical psychologists, who have switched after growing tired of the bureaucracy and red tape in managed care. Overall, psychology as a career has a projected growth rate of 12%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Work Environment

The work environment depends on the career path chosen. If you work with lawyers and the court system, your daily schedule will take you to the courthouse, your own office, the police stations, and detention centers. Some forensic psychologists visit crime sites to help police figure out a criminal profile.

If you work with victims, helping them cope with the after effects of a violent crime, you would work in a clinical environment, either in a private practice, hospital, or community mental health facility.

If you choose research or an academic career, you would perform your work at a college or similar institution, in the classroom, or an office.

How to Do It

To become a sought-after forensic psychologist, you need lots of education. Though you can find certain types of research jobs with only a bachelor's degree, a masters degree or Ph.D .or Psy.D. is necessary to become licensed and certified. The best career prospects come with a Ph.D. or Psy.D.

This means majoring in psychology as an undergraduate, getting a bachelor's degree, then a master's degree, and then either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. You then need to take the examinations to become licensed and certified as a psychologist. In addition, you can become board certified in the field.

Many who follow this career path find it helpful to minor in law as an undergraduate. In fact, some practitioners have doctorates in both law and psychology. Continuing education is essential for anyone in this field.

Pros & Cons

The field of forensic psychology is more exciting, yet more demanding — and at the same time more mundane than what's shown in an hour of television drama.

The pros of a forensic psychology occupation include:

  • The diversity offered by a cutting edge field where law enforcement and science meet.
  • The choice of working in either private practice or in the public sector.
  • The chance to be of service to the community.
  • The challenge and even risk of dealing in the criminal justice field.
  • High job satisfaction, especially with the successful conclusion to a case. Freedom from insurance and managed care concerns.
  • High salaries.

But there is more to the story. Here is a look at the downsides of this career path:

  • Education requirements: You often need a doctorate for an entry level job. It requires five to seven years of postgraduate education, all of which is expensive.
  • Need for experience: Without experience, you might qualify for just part-time work, which is hard on your income.
  • Long days: 18 hours days are not uncommon when in the middle of a pressing case. You must be on-call at least some of the time in many positions and be available to travel with short notice.
  • Low starting salary: When you are starting out,your annual salary will be in the $60,000 range. 
  • Ethical considerations: As a consultant for hire, you might be required to take sides in a case, much like a lawyer does, which can produce stress and frustration.

Career Path

There are numerous career paths in the category. Here is an overview of five:

  • Work with the victim, counseling those who have been raped and abused before, during and after court trials; helping them cope with the stress; testifying about the effects of the crime on the victim
  • Work with the accused, assessing their competency levels, determining how well they understand right and wrong. They sometimes make recommendations to the judge about the need for sending the accused to an institution for therapy. They also work with those convicted as part of rehabilitative therapy.
  • Develop criminal profiles, working at crime sites and with law enforcement
  • Go into private practice and work as consultants.
  • Conduct research work or teach in an academic setting.
  • Work in correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies, mental health institutions, community health organizations and probation departments

Financial Aid

There are numerous scholarships that help students complete their education in the field of forensic psychology. Here are five to check out:

OpenCourseWare

  • Case Studies in Forensic Metallurgy - This course contains original reports and photos pertaining to each case study. In addition, many cases include links to the relevant edition of "Calamities," a column by Prof. Russell.
  • Understanding the Origins of Crime (OrigCrim) - Learn to understand criminal behaviour by looking at our evolutionary history and animal behaviour in general. Criminologists, like scientists generally, agree that life resulted from a process of natural selection. But most do not use that information when studying what crime is and why it exists. In this course, you will learn the process of natural selection and how it can be used to make sense of criminal behaviour. We will use the theory of evolution to make sense of a broad range of crimes including several types of homicide, child abuse and neglect, spousal assault and group level aggression such as warfare, hooliganism, rioting, and gang fights.
  • Crime 101 - This course systematically explores the effectiveness of the law and justice system from a psychological perspective. By experiencing a fictional case first hand, you will learn about the psychology of law and some of the misconceptions commonly held about criminal justice.
  • Introduction to Forensic Science - Understand how basic scientific principles underpin forensic science and can contribute to solving criminal cases. The course aims to explain the scientific principles and techniques behind the work of forensic scientists and will be illustrated with numerous case studies from Singapore and around the world.
  • Introduction to Psychology as a Science - Learn about how psychology has developed a body of knowledge about behavior and mind through the use of scientific methods. All areas of psychology will be covered. Since we were young children, we have tried to understand, to predict, and to control behavior. We first dealt with our parents and teachers, and later our friends and companions. This course shows, however, how the understanding, prediction, and control of behavior require scientific validation. By using tools that are systematic and objective, psychology has learned how people behave and think.
  • Intro to forensic psychology - Coursehero.com - Offered by University of Phoenix, Intro to Forensic Psychology discusses the research, practice and application of psychological knowledge as it pertains to the legal system.
  • Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation - Discover how psychology can help obtain evidence from eyewitnesses in police investigations and prevent miscarriages of justice. Explore how your own mind works, and discover how the limitations of the human brain can lead to major miscarriages of justice.
  • Additional Free Courses in other areas of Psychology

Video/Audio Lectures

  • Forensic Psychology: Risk Assessment - Risk Assessment concerns prediction and management of people who are at risk of committing a criminal act. This includes Acturial reports which statistically determine the top risk factors, structured and unstructured interviews.
  • Forensic Psychology:Eye Witness Testimony - This lecture slide concerns the accuracy report of eye witness testimony. How accurate are eye-witness testimonials? And how can we interview witness so that their reports can be more accurate? It identifies the 'Cognitive Interview Model' which is a interview approach for increasing accuracy of reports while minimizes false information. One of the main mistake of interviewers are asking misleading questions. For instance, 'did you see the gun?' as opposed to 'did you see 'a' gun?' First part was misleading because it implies that a gun was witnessed when in fact there may not have been a gun present.
  • Forensic Psychology: The Real World of CSI - Dr. Jeffery Kieliszewski from Human Resource Associates presents on his experience in the criminal justice system as a forensic Psychologist. This is the first lecture in the 2009-2010 Psychology Speakers Series. See the full list at www.grcc.edu/psychologyspeakers
  • Forensic Psychology Tim Franklin - MesaCC Psychology Evening Lecture Series - Nov 5 2013 - Forensic Psychology is an often misunderstood area of Psychology, thanks in part to all of those TV cop shows. Join Sergeant Franklin as he examines the realities of Forensic Psychology from both the civil and the criminal perspectives.
  • PSYC 2450 Lecture 1-1 Intro to Forensic Psychology - Eric Silk discusses Intro to Forensic Psychology
  • Expert John Bosworth Discusses Forensic Psychology - Forensic psychologists usually deal with the public and the types of psychological procedures, theories and counseling techniques that apply to the public domain. John Bosworth is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, chronic pain and stress management.

Podcasts

  • Talk Forensics - Over 55 Forensics science discussion in all disciplines. With experts in the various fields of forensics taking calls from listeners.
  • Pathological Lying, Accusation, and Swindling – A Study in Forensic Psychology by HEALY, William and HEALY, Mary - This work describes and analyzes several cases of pathological behavior. The interest comes not only from the cases themselves, but also from the of-its-time analysis which is mired in what we now know to be wrong thinking about mental illness, sexuality, gender, and race. - written by Mary Schneider
  • David Remmert, Ph.D. on Forensic Psychology - David Remmert, Ph.D. on Forensic Psychology. Mental Help Net (www.mentalhelp.net) presents the Wise Counsel Podcast (wisecounsel.mentalhelp.net), hosted by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
  • Dr Leonie Boeing, Professor John Gunn and Professor Peter Tyrer -  Dr Raj Persaud in conversation with Professor John Gunn, Emeritus Professor of Forensic Psychiatry formerly based at the Institute of Psychiatry, about his wide-ranging career.
  • 173: Three Kinds of Deception - A story of self-deception, a story about deceiving others, and a story about accidental deception. And how one type of deception can easily turn into another.

Flash Card/Quizzes

Further Reading

To find out more about the field of forensic psychology, you can read more in these books.

  • Forensic Psychology for Dummies, For Dummies, 2012, by David Canter and Ian Rankin. This provides a detailed overview of the field, both as a career option and for true crime aficionados.
  • Forensic Psychology, Wiley-Blackwell, 2008, by Matthew T. Huss is a textbook that provides an introduction to the clinical practice of forensic psychology.
  • Forensic Psychology and Law, Wiley, 2009, by Ronald Roesch, Patricia A. Zapf and Stephen D. Hart, is a highly respected review of the role that psychological science plays in the legal process.
  • So You Want to Be a Forensic Psychologist, Create Space, 2013, by Brendan O'Mahony, a UK author. The book has useful career information for undergraduates and recent graduates.
  • Getting Started in Forensic Psychology Practice: How to Create a Forensic Specialty in Your Mental Health Practice, Wiley, 2006, by Eric G. Mart, a book aimed at recent graduates and mental health professionals, shows how to start and grow a forensic psychology practice.

Suggested Websites

The field of forensic psychology has become better known because of the proliferation of true crime dramas on TV. The number of articles on the web has increased in proportion. Here is a look at five websites that have information of interest to people who want to make it their career.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/witness/201409/forensic-psychology-is-it-the-career-me

Psychology Today has a good introduction to the field aimed at students who are interested in it as a career. It also has links to further resources.

http://forensicpsychologist.blogspot.com/2007/09/whats-it-take-to-become-forensic.html

This blog is written by a practicing forensic psychologist. It covers a range of topics and resources. This particular article talks about prospects for graduates.

http://www.abfp.com/brochure.asp

This is the official website of the American Board of Forensic Psychology. It has a wealth of information about requirements for licensing and certification.

http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologycareerprofiles/a/forensicpsych.htm

The About.com guide for psychology has a number of articles on the field of forensic psychology. This article explains duties and career prospects.

http://mastersinpsychologyguide.com/articles/what-is-the-salary-outlook-for-masters-in-forensic-psychology-grads

Along with other types of psychology, the demand for forensic psychologists has been steadily growing. This cross-section of law and psychology is an interesting subject that can also be quite lucrative.

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