How Do You Become a Forensic Psychologist?

If you’re looking to become a forensic psychologist, chances are you already know a little bit about the industry. Forensic psychology is a career that is a combination of the legal system and psychology. Generally speaking, a forensic psychologist focuses on applying psychological practice and theory to the corrections, court and criminal systems, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Forensic psychologists work with members of the court and the justice system to help it function. Being able to apply legal concepts requires solid foundational knowledge of psychological principles like perception, memory and state of mind. Due to the specialized, unique nature of the field, pursuing a graduate degree is necessary.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Although there are several paths to entering this field, all begin at the same starting point: a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. One of the most common courses of action at the undergraduate level is to major in psychology and minor in pre-law, criminology or criminal justice. Students may also choose to major in a law subject in minor in psychology, but keep in mind that some graduate only accept candidates into their master’s programs if they have earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. A few universities offer undergraduate programs in psychology with an emphasis or concentration on forensic psychology, including legal aspects of the field.

Obtain a Higher Degree

Most doctoral psychology degrees do not have a specific forensic psychology program. Instead, students will earn a doctoral degree in psychology while also taking a concentration in forensic psychology. Students may instead choose to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology should they wish to further develop specialized knowledge of the field. In addition, a Juris Doctor, although not a mandatory degree, can introduce students to the court’s legal procedures as well as its related concepts, and students may be eligible to sit for the bar and become a lawyer. Some universities offer dual degrees that combine a JD degree with a doctorate or master’s degree. A PsyD is great for those who focus on patients’ treatment, while the PhD in Psychology is an option for students who are research-oriented.

Earn Licensure and Board Certification

A state license will likely be needed if a forensic psychologist wishes to act as a witness in determining the compentency of an individual or evaluate someone on behalf of the court. Although each state determines whether or not an individual must be licensed, most states indicate that relevant experience is necessary as well as a doctorate degree and passing an official exam for practicing psychology.

Even though it’s not a requirement to practice as a forensic psychologist, some individuals may apply for professional certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology. The Diploma in Forensic Psychology is overseen by the board and is the only postdoctoral certification recognized by the American Psychological Association for forensic psychologists. In order to be eligible, candidates must be licensed, hold a doctoral degree from an accredited, professional psychology program and finish at least 1,000 hours of hands-on experience as well as at least 100 hours of coursework at an accredited educational institution.

Related Resource: What is a Criminologist?

Becoming a forensic psychologist also requires a certain skillset, including critical thinking, good communication, the ability to observe and a strong ability to research. Students who demonstrate these skills and who pursue a higher education to become a forensic psychologist will find lucrative work in a growing field.