A career as a forensic psychologist can seem daunting as a doctoral degree in clinical psychology is required to become licensed to practice this specialty. A clinical psychology Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree requires coursework in areas such as psychological theory, clinical interviewing, therapeutic interventions, psychological testing, and scientific research. Clinical psychology programs may also offer a specialization or a concentration in Forensic Psychology, which requires course work on the intersection of psychology and law. All Ph.D. and most Psy.D. programs require a dissertation or an equivalent project, with specific criteria varying by program. In addition, both types of doctorate programs require a year-long clinical internship, often with fieldwork before the internship experience. After completing an internship, psychologists must take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), with licensure regulations and requirements varying by state.
Licensed clinicians can also become board certified as diplomates by the American Academy of Forensic Psychology (AAFP). For more information on Board Certification in Forensic Psychology, check out our on-demand program presented by Richart L. Demier, Ph.D., in partnership with AAFP. In addition to forensic psychology, other fields of mental health such as social work and psychiatry offer jobs that link between mental health and the legal arena. These domains also require clinicians to be licensed in their state to practice. However, not all forensic psychology jobs require many years of graduate-level training and licensure. Bachelor and master-level jobs are widely available, especially in certain areas such as corrections and community mental health agencies serving offenders.
Forensic psychology offers a variety of careers, from public policy to working within the criminal justice system. Individuals may become clinicians working for private, city, or state hospitals, community mental health centers, or private practice. Clinicians may also work in federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Some individuals may practice as consultants and work with public and private organizations. Check out some highlights below.
1. Clinical Work
a. Assessment: Forensic psychological assessment requires an evaluator to offer professional expertise on psychological matters related to the judicial and legal systems.
- Criminal evaluations include a defendant’s competence to stand trial, the mental state of an individual at the time of an offense, violence threat assessment and management, allegations of abuse and maltreatment, and many more.
- Civil evaluations include parenting capacity and child custody, personal injury, workplace disability, personality evaluations, treatment outcomes.
A forensic clinician conducting treatment can face various clinical dilemmas. This work is usually with an individual who did not enter treatment voluntarily (e.g., due to the judicial system, employers, or another third party that has mandated or persuaded the individual into treatment).
i. Individual therapy, group therapy, and a therapeutic milieu are used to help clients (e.g., criminal defendants, victims of physical and sexual abuse, individuals acquitted not guilty by reason of insanity, or victims of workplace violence) move through the forensic process and, if appropriate, reintegrate safely into the community.
2. Employment in the Justice System
a. Probation or Parole Officer: Supervise individuals recently released from the prison system. Training in forensic psychology can allow professionals to aid in the decision-making process related to the likelihood of violence, release determination, level of supervision required, etc.
b. Correctional Counselor: Conduct counseling sessions, psychological evaluations, collaborating with lawyers. Counselors help individuals transition away from criminal behavior and toward a more adaptive and productive life.
C. Correctional Supervisors: Work in juvenile jails, state prisons, detention centers. The focus of work is on maintaining order and ensuring the safety of the employees and detainees.
a. Victim Advocate: Working directly with victims of traumatic events like domestic violence, human trafficking, or sexual assault. Advocates can help their clients understand the legal proceedings, attend these legal procedures, and provide information, resources, and support.
b. Post-Conviction Advocate: enhance police and community relations as wrongful convictions cause tremendous harm to innocent persons and their families, crime victims, and the public. The goal is to move the nation toward a fairer and unfailing criminal justice process.
a. Jury Consultation
: take on many forms to provide insight into courtroom dynamics, such as assisting with jury selection, evaluating witness testimony, conducting mock trials, and more. Jury consultants work with attorneys and expert witnesses in cases of disputed confessions.
a. Teaching: After obtaining a doctoral degree, individuals may work for an educational institution as a professor. Of note, 2-year college programs may not require a doctoral degree, but most 4-year institutions need a Ph.D. to teach at the professor level. In addition, professors are expected to publish personal research studies in scholarly journals and supervise students' research and sometimes clinical work.
b. Research: Individuals may participate in the collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of research results related to several legal issues. Forensic mental health research may be used in clinical and correctional settings and judicial processes. In addition, researchers aim to use their findings to bring about change to public policy and strategies.