What is a Forensic Psychologist?

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Television can often bring to light topics that viewers may not otherwise have exposure to, such as the work of a forensic psychologist. Many popular crime television shows glamorize this occupation leaving many wondering what these individuals actually do in real life. The work of these psychologists is varied and undoubtedly important.


The field of forensic psychology is relatively new such that the American Psychology Association (APA) only officially recognized the specialty back in 2001. Forensic psychology involves applying psychological principles and practices to the legal system. The focus of the field is usually on criminals. The work of these individuals help in preventing criminals from committing crimes or punishing criminals and, as a result, helps communities become safer places to live. Individuals employed in this line of work can be found working in law firms, courthouses, prisons, juvenile detention centers, and in police stations. Forensic psychologists can be employed full-time or choose to work on a consultative basis.

Job Duties

The most common job duty of a forensic psychologist is conducting psychological assessments. These assessments are conducted on a variety of individuals but mainly on criminals which involves interviewing the criminal and developing a personal profile. They are often completed in connection with insanity cases. The result of the psychological assessment in these instances is of utmost importance since in the United States a person is not held liable for committing a crime if they have been deemed clinically insane. Psychological assessments are also conducted on others when necessary, for example, to determine if a person is a credible witness. Other duties involve completing evaluations for child custody cases and counseling crime victims as well as delivering and evaluating treatment programs for criminals. These psychologists serve as experts and provide advice to police and lawyers on matters involving mental health issues in addition to being expert witnesses in the courtroom.

How to Become One

Those desiring to become a forensic psychologist must obtain a doctoral degree from a program that is accredited by the APA or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). Two years of supervised practice is required that includes a one-year pre-doctoral internship that is accredited by the APA or the CPA. Afterward, individuals must become licensed which requires an oral or written exam, depending on the state in which the applicant applies. Board certification by the American Board of Forensic Psychology is available for those choosing to meet the requirements. Professionals in this field can seek employment in a variety of setting and are employed as academic researchers, correctional psychologists, treatment providers, trial consultants, consultants to law enforcement, expert witnesses, and evaluators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all psychologists is $77,030.

Related Resource: 15 Most Affordable Top Online Master's in Forensic Psychology Degree 2018

The field of forensic psychology provides individuals with an interest in psychology the opportunity to be involved with helping improve the justice system through the application of their expert knowledge. Their work can have a great impact on various situations, such as determining if a criminal will spend their life in prison or if a child can regularly see their parent. The significant impact and excitement of this field are understandably increasingly drawing individuals to pursue careers as a forensic psychologist.