What Is Forensic Psychology and What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?

Yellow crime scene tape in front of forensic professionals in distance

The criminal justice system depends on professionals from all sorts of backgrounds and specialties working together to make society safer. One of those specialties is forensic psychology. Exactly what is forensic psychology and what do forensic psychologists do?

Forensic psychology is a broad term that simply refers to the intersection of the legal system and psychology. If this field interests you, consider enrolling in a psychology or criminal justice degree program to help set a solid foundation for your future career. In this blog, you’ll learn about the fundamentals of being a criminal psychologist, including the answers to common questions such as, Who do forensic psychologists work with? and Where does a criminal psychologist work? 

In This Article:

What Is Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychology is a field that applies the practice of psychology to the legal field. This may involve work on both criminal and civil cases. The focus of a forensic psychologist is to evaluate and understand criminal behavior and victimology.

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.

What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?

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 what their role is. As a rule of thumb, however, a forensic psychologist typically does any of the following:1

  • Designs rehabilitation programs in a correctional setting
  • Performs child custody evaluations and testifies in family court cases
  • Provides sentencing recommendations for convicted defendants
  • Delivers psychological services to current and former inmates
  • Evaluates potential child abuse victims and prepares children to testify in court
  • Consults 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 insight into criminal behavior and victimology. Professionals in this capacity need a doctorate in psychology or another relevant doctoral degree.2

Serving as an Expert Witness During Trials

It’s often necessary for criminal justice professionals to testify during trials, and forensic psychologists are no exception. During any given day, these specialists may be writing court reports and briefings, consulting with the prosecution team and testifying under oath as expert witnesses. A successful courtroom appearance requires excellent verbal communication skills, a sharp memory and the ability to handle tough questions without getting flustered.

Some forensic psychologists, especially those in private practice, provide services for the defense team. They can give defense attorneys insight into the mental state of the accused and may serve as expert witnesses during the trial.1

Assessing, Training and Advising Criminal Justice Professionals

Law enforcement professionals are subject to an incredibly high level of mental stress in their careers, particularly those who work in urban areas with high crime rates. It may sometimes be necessary for a forensic psychologist to assess the mental state of a police officer, such as an officer who has recently been involved in a shooting. In this capacity, the forensic psychologist assesses whether the officer is fit for duty.2

Additionally, forensic psychologists can train law enforcement officers to better prepare them for interactions with citizens who may be emotionally disturbed.

Who Do Forensic Psychologists Work With?

Before determining whether becoming a criminal psychologist is the best fit for you, it’s important to consider the profession’s typical work environments.

Working One-on-One With Prison Populations

Within a prison population, forensic psychologists can conduct in-depth mental health assessments, particularly of inmates who might be at risk of suicide. These professionals may develop and implement mental health programs within the prison environment and deliver behavioral health therapies directly to inmates.

Forensic psychologists can also be called upon to assess the likelihood of repeat criminal offenses among inmates who are up for parole. Because forensic psychologists must frequently work with offenders who have committed violent crimes, it’s essential that candidates for this type of work be comfortable interacting with a wide variety of people.

Forensic Psychologist Career Pathways

In addition to working directly with offender populations in prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers, forensic psychologists also work with victims of crime, family members, police and investigators. Forensic psychologists are often hired to work in:3

  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Schools
  • Police departments
  • Private practices
  • Government agencies

Grand Canyon University offers a broad selection of undergraduate psychology and criminal justice degree options, as well as graduate education for those who aspire to take their careers further. Complete the form on this page to learn about applying for enrollment in the Master of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in Forensic Psychology degree program. 


1 Simmons, L. (2022, August 12). What Is Forensic Psychology? Psychology.org. Retrieved on May 16, 2023.

2 Ward, J. (2013, September). What Is forensic psychology? American Psychological Association. Retrieved on May 16, 2023.

3 American Psychological Association. (2014). A Career in Forensic and Public Service Psychology. Retrieved on May 16, 2023.

Approved by the assistant dean of behavioral health from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on May 24, 2023.

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. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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