Forensic psychologists are highly trained professionals that straddle the world of psychology and the legal system. They have gained a lot of notoriety in recent years, thanks to the increasing number of television shows that glamorize the profession and show people using psychology to aid in solving crimes. The truth is that forensic psychology is much more complex, involved, and complicated than anything listed in TV Guide – and cases are rarely concluded in less than an hour.
The Need for Psychologists is Growing
Forensic psychology falls under the broad spectrum of psychology, which is a fast-growing field with many opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job growth is projected at 14% through 2026.
The BLS reported the average annual pay in May 2016 for psychologists was $94,650. The highest 10% earned $127,710, while the lowest 10% earned $41,690. Pay may vary dependent on several factors, such as a candidate’s education and experience, as well as regional market conditions. Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research.
Education in Forensic Psychology
Many forensic psychologists hold PhD (doctor of philosophy) or PsyD (doctor of psychology) degrees, but one way to start a career in the field is with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in forensic psychology. This educational path provides a strong grounding in the basics of psychology and the legal system, which are critical for those students who wish to pursue a master’s and then a doctorate.
You Get to Learn and Use a Variety of Skills
In class, students can expect coursework covering domestic violence, mental health policy, clinical assessment and psychological treatment for both children and adults. A good forensic psychologist will display the following skills:
- Active listening
- Critical thinking
- Understanding of legal procedures
There are Many Career Possibilities
Forensic psychology opens a world of career possibilities. Many forensic psychologists without PhD or PsyD degrees find work as detectives, child custody workers, correctional officers, probation officers or similar positions. Many professionals become researchers, trial consultants and expert witnesses.
You Can Make a Difference …
One of the most important things that forensic psychologists do is help their clients work their way through the legal system. A forensic psychologist might provide the assessment that determines whether a suspect is capable to stand trial. He or she might also be involved in child custody proceedings. Or he or she could be the expert witness at a trial, providing crucial testimony that can’t be gained anywhere else.
… But it’s Not for the Faint of Heart
Being a forensic psychologist means seeing humanity at its best – and, maybe more than wanted, seeing it at its worst. This makes compassion fatigue a real concern – a forensic psychologist might become dejected and detached, and have difficulty in showing empathy. This can affect the professional’s mental health and job performance. Fortunately, there are resources to help people suffering from compassion fatigue.