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This is usually where the initial interest in forensic psychology begins to form. It is here that individuals start taking classes on psychology, law and criminal justice. As they take these classes, students start to make a decision on which field they think will suit them the best. Some choose to go into …become a forensic psychologist… to combine your affinity for psychology and criminal justice”law enforcement, work as a corrections officer, or a lawyer. Others choose to use their psychology and become a therapist, perhaps even working with patients who are in the criminal justice system. The individual who feels passionate about both of these fields become interested in the forensic psychology area. At the undergraduate level, there are options to specialize in forensic psychology. However, some students may decide to major in psychology or law initially.
During the forensic psychology graduate program, individuals can start looking into the field more closely. All will need to get their degree in psychology, but some will be able to go through specialized programs that combine the forensic aspects of this specialty. Even if a forensic psychology program is not readily available, individuals can choose to specialize in the field. They do this by taking additional classes and sometimes go so far as to earn their law degree, in combination with a psychology doctorate degree. The type of graduate program an individual chooses to go through will depend on if they want to work in the field, which is called applied forensic psychology, or if they want to do research, which is called academic forensic psychology.
Getting experience in the area of your specialty is the key to getting long term employment. Individuals who want to specialize in criminal profiling, for example, must spend several years in the law enforcement arena before they can fully understand all aspects of that type of job. Some forensic psychologists who specialize in criminal profiling have worked previously as law enforcement professionals for decades before becoming a psychologist and moving into the specialization of criminal profiling.
To become a forensic psychologist it does take many years of study and dedication. Each individual path may look different, but they all will require some form of graduate school and a psychology degree. Individuals hoping to specialize in a specific area of forensic psychology will find an internship in their specialty is helpful in getting to know the specifics of that area as well as helping to find a job in their field. Forensic psychology is an intense form of psychology combining the mental understanding of psychology with an in-depth knowledge of the law.
Steps to Become a Forensic Psychologist
STEP 1: Research the Field
Let’s face it; starting down any career path requires a great deal of commitment. In order to become a forensic psychologist, you’re going to be in school for a number of years. The last thing you want to do is end up changing your major while attending college. So, make sure you take the time to read up on what forensic psychology is, what a forensic psychologist does, and what it takes to become a forensic psychologist.
STEP 2: Evaluate Your Skill Set
Now that you’ve read up on the forensic psychology field, it’s time to determine if you have the traits to be successful. For example, one trait you will definitely need to have is people skills. In other words, if you are an introvert, this is not the field for you. You are going to be around people all day and having the ability to interact successfully with others is a critical trait.
STEP 3: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
The typical major for a prospective forensic psychologist is psychology, but you may also pursue a criminal justice degree to knock out the undergraduate portion of your pursuit. Obviously, you want to focus your electives on subjects like forensic, criminal justice, and psychology. Typically, it takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree.
STEP 4: Earn a Master’s Degree
This is not necessarily a required step, since there are institutions out there that will enroll undergraduate students. However, the natural progression for most programs is to earn your bachelor’s degree and your master’s degree before starting a doctoral program. You may also decide that a master’s degree is all you need in order for you to achieve your career goals. Normally, a master’s degree takes about two years to complete.
STEP 5: Get a Doctorate Degree
There are two different types of doctoral degrees that you can pursue; a PhD or a PsyD. If research is your objective, then you will likely be going after a PhD. If your plan is to work as a practicing psychologist, then you will want to earn your PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology degree. Plan on being in school for at least five years if you want to earn your doctorate degree.
STEP 6: Get Licensed in Your State
Every state in the country requires you to have a license and, even thought the licensing process might be almost identical in most states, you will still find states that do things a bit differently. However, you are most likely going to be subjected to the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). You are likely going to need approval from a state board in order to schedule this test.
STEP 7: Get Board Certified
Not unlike what is required in a number of other professions, board certification indicates that a forensic psychologist has met the standards and requirements for the field and is certified to practice. The organization that handles the board certification of forensic psychologists is the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). The requirements of the ABPP to become board certified are quite extensive. The applicant will have their credentials reviewed, take a written exam, and go through an oral exam. After all of that, members of the ABPP hold a vote to determine if you’re accepted as a member.
What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
The day to day tasks of a forensic psychologist will depend on which specialty within the field they are working in. In general, a psychologist in this field is going to combine the field of psychology and the field of law. Many forensic psychologists will work in a criminal justice setting, …a psychologist in this field is going to combine the field of psychology and the field of law”private practice, therapy or research setting. Some psychologists will work directly to help find criminals, while others will work directly with criminals in the justice system.
Individuals working in forensic psychology and the academic fields are often in the process of conducting research. This research often concentrates on criminals, their behavior and treatment patterns. Some forensic psychologists choose to teach in their field and combine that teaching with research in their area of interest. Forensic psychologists in the academic or research areas do not spend much time face to face with individuals in the criminal system. Instead, their time is concentrated on the theories and research behind why someone behaves a certain way and how to predict those patterns.
Forensic psychologists who work in the corrections field can usually be found at a jail or prison. Their psychology skills are used to provide therapy and education to the inmates on a regular basis. Some forensic psychologists in this area will also consult on outside criminal cases or do their own research in the field of forensic psychology. The day to day job of a psychologist within the corrections field is to ensure prisoners are getting their basic mental health needs met, understanding more about prisoners, and eventually helping to transfer a prisoner from the enclosed prison to their new life of freedom.
Providing various forms of psychological assessments is often the job of a forensic psychologist that is working in the court system. Judge ordered assessments are often the key to a defense or prosecution case and it is completed by a forensic psychologist. Through their knowledge of both psychology and the law, forensic psychologists in this field spend much of their time with individuals, doing testing and testifying in court cases. Psychologists in this area are sometimes contracted by a specific defense or prosecution team for the sole purpose of helping to prove a criminal case.
This type of forensic psychologist is the first one to come to mind when you think of this specialty. Individuals with many years of law enforcement, combined with a forensic psychology background, have the necessary knowledge to read criminal cases and help find the individuals. Psychologists might work directly with a police department or other government agency to develop a profile of the criminal they are looking for. It is more difficult to get into this area of specialty than any other area of the forensic psychology field.
Understanding what a forensic psychologist does includes being aware of the various fields of work available to them. Academic research or teaching, corrections, the courts and criminal profiling are just a few of the areas someone with a forensic psychology degree might work in. The field of forensic psychology is a broad field which includes many different sub-types and specialties.