If you have an interest in psychology and criminal justice, then you might consider a career in forensic psychology. Television shows depict these professionals as crime solvers who interrogate suspects and visit crime scenes looking for evidence. The reality is quite different. Forensic psychology involves the ways that clinical knowledge and skills are applied to the legal arena. Here is what you need to know.
An Overview of Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology is an emerging field that applies the clinical practice of psychology to the legal field. This may involve work in both criminal and civil cases. The focus of a forensic psychologist is to evaluate and understand criminal behavior and victimology. The ultimate purpose of the field is to make communities safer with this understanding. Forensic psychologists can help keep communities safe by doing the following:
- Evaluating suspects to assess their fitness to stand trial
- Consulting with law enforcement officers
- Rehabilitating criminal offenders
- Interviewing convicted felons to assess their readiness for release
Although these jobs can be rewarding, they are also challenging and require mental resilience. Unlike many similar jobs, forensic psychologists work with individuals who do not voluntarily seek mental health services. They may resist attempts to understand their behavior and thought patterns. These individuals may also be unwilling to participate in rehabilitation efforts.
A Day in the Life of a Forensic Psychologist
People with a professional background in forensic psychology may perform a wide range of jobs. The day-to-day schedule of these professionals will vary depending on exactly what their role is. As a rule of thumb, however, a forensic psychologist usually does any of the following:
- Design rehabilitation programs in a corrections setting
- Perform child custody evaluations and testify in family court cases
- Provide sentencing recommendations for convicted defendants
- Deliver psychological services to convicted inmates and former inmates
- Evaluate children thought to be victims of child abuse and prepare children to testify in court
- Consult with law enforcement and prosecutors about a suspect’s state of mind
Some forensic psychologists prefer to take on an academic role. They may focus on conducting original research designed to reveal insights into criminal behavior and victimology.
Examples of Forensic Psychology Jobs
To call yourself a forensic psychologist, you will need to earn an advanced degree. However, there are also forensic psychology jobs that available to graduates with an undergraduate degree in the field. Here are a few examples:
- Court liaison: This administrative role involves scheduling depositions and witness testimony, processing subpoenas and preparing court paperwork.
- Crime analyst: Crime analysts study patterns of criminal behavior. They try to predict crime trends, and they work with law enforcement officers to provide insights about criminal behavior and patterns.
- Forensic case manager: Forensic case managers work with current and former inmates. They assess the clients’ need for mental health and rehabilitation services and connect those individuals to resources that can help them safely rejoin society.
- Victims’ advocate: If you prefer to help victims of crime, rather than work with the criminals, then you might consider becoming a victims’ advocate. These professionals support the mental health of victims of crimes, connecting them to local resources and even sometimes going to court with them.
Many students who graduate with a forensic psychology degree decide to go to graduate school to broaden their career options. Those who earn a doctoral degree may be qualified for the following types of forensic psychology jobs:
- Forensic psychologist: With a doctoral degree and proper licensure, you could pursue a job as a forensic psychologist. Forensic psychologists often work within law enforcement agencies like the FBI or within the prison system working directly with inmates.
- Jury consultant: Jury consultants work with defense attorneys, prosecutors or plaintiffs’ counsel to give guidance on jury selection for a case.
- Expert witness: Forensic psychologists may act as an expert witness on an as-needed basis or as a full-time job. A psychologist who is an expert witness first evaluates the mental state of a defendant and then testifies in court regarding the defendant’s state of mind.
- Psychology researcher: Doctoral degree graduates who wish to stay in academia may become professional researchers. In this role, they contribute to the field’s understanding of criminal behavior and victimology.
- Psychology professor: Another option in the academic world is to pursue a career as a university professor. Forensic psychologists may teach undergraduates or graduate students.
If you are hoping to prepare for a rewarding career in psychology, consider enrolling at Grand Canyon University. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in Forensic Psychology degree program for students who wish to enter the field of forensic psychology. Graduates acquire core competencies in this field by studying social psychology, criminal law, victimology, trauma, experimental psychology and criminal behavior. To learn about the other psychology and counseling degrees offered at Grand Canyon University, visit our website or click on the Request Information button on this page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.