The Business of Practice

Do I Need To Be A Clinical Psychologist To Be A Forensic Psychologist?

The answer to this question depends on the types of activities you wish to engage in as a forensic psychologist. 

All forensic psychologists work at the interface of psychology and the law, encompassing various activities and roles. Forensic psychology is divided into two broad areas—clinical forensic psychology and non-clinical forensic psychology (also called experimental forensic psychology or psychology and law). 

Do I Need To Be A Clinical Psychologist To Be A Forensic Psychologist?

Clinical Forensic Psychology

In general, a clinical forensic psychologist is a clinical psychologist who works at the interface of psychology and law. Clinical forensic psychologists must be licensed to practice clinical psychology and have completed specialized education, training, and experience in forensic psychology.

While the licensing laws and requirements vary by state (in the USA) and province (in Canada), a doctoral degree in clinical psychology (either a Ph.D. or a PsyD) is the most common educational requirement for licensure as a psychologist. In addition, most states and provinces require a certain number of hours of professional experience and additional training to engage in forensic psychological services.

Licensed clinical psychologists who specialize in forensic psychology engage in a wide variety of professional roles, including, but not limited to:

  • Conducting evaluations and assessments of individuals involved in the criminal and civil justice systems
  • Providing intervention and treatment services for individuals involved in some aspect of the criminal or civil justice systems or for those within the correctional system
  • Providing consultation regarding psychological aspects of legal issues
  • Researching issues related to psychology and law
  • Developing policy on matters related to psychology and law
  • Testifying as an expert witness

Experimental Forensic Psychology

Experimental forensic psychologists work at the interface of psychology and law but do not directly deliver psychological services to individuals or groups. Consequently, most states and provinces do not require experimental (or other non-clinical) forensic psychologists to become licensed since they do not work directly with patients or provide clinical psychological services.

But, still, most experimental forensic psychologists obtain a Ph.D. in either experimental or social psychology and receive specialized training in issues related to psychology and law.

Non-clinical forensic psychologists engage in a wide variety of professional roles, including, but not limited to:

  • Researching issues related to psychology and law, such as jury and judicial decision-making, eyewitness testimony, eyewitness identification, interrogations, and confessions
  • Providing expert testimony on matters related to psychology and law
  • Engaging in trial and jury consultation services
  • Developing policy on the issues related to psychology and law

The answer to whether one needs to become a clinical psychologist to be a clinical forensic psychologist is yes. But, if you don’t want to directly deliver psychological services (assessment, treatment, consultation) to individuals or groups, then the answer is no. 

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