Surprising Career Paths in Forensic Psychology
- August 23, 2017
- Posted by: Amber Bobnar
- Category: Career Guides,
If you’re considering a career in psychology, the field of forensics offers a lot of flexibility in terms of where you can live and what types of jobs you can do. Forensic psychologists apply their expertise in the context of the judicial system. This guide covers the path to employment, the best states to find work and how much money you can expect to make with a degree in forensic psychology.
What is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology is where the worlds of mental health and the law intersect, so it should be no surprise that many forensic psychologists are civil servants. For example, they may work in prisons conducting evaluations to determine if alleged criminals are fit to stand trial. Forensic psychologists are also needed in child abuse cases to assess psychological damage and evaluate the truthfulness of testimonies. They may also be called upon to investigate military court-martial cases involving allegations of abuse.
Those working in private practice might evaluate clients involved in personal injury or class-action lawsuits so that they can testify to any psychological harm done to the victim. There are also many specialties within the field; for instance, forensic neuropsychologist have additional training in neurology, so they are sometimes asked to evaluate clients who suffer from brain injuries. Social and experimental forensic psychologists are sometimes used to aid in jury selections and to hold focus groups for the purpose of determining the persuasiveness of a lawyer’s arguments.
Experienced psychologists are always needed to teach new psychologists, which is why employment in academia is a popular choice for professionals with several years of working in the field. Universities also hire forensic psychologists to conduct research, but if you’re really interested in research, you should consider employment at a government agency like the Federal Judicial Center or nonprofits like the National Center for State Courts and the RAND Corp.
Where Do Forensic Psychologists Work?
Forensic psychologists work in a wide variety of settings including prisons, in-patient mental health facilities, universities, private research companies, nonprofit think tanks and police stations. It’s common for professionals in this field to start in one niche and branch out as their careers progress.
Most forensic psychology jobs are based in metropolitan areas. Many rural police forces lack a local forensics laboratory, and those that do have low turnover. Metropolitan police departments, on the other hand, usually have entire forensic units. Salaries are higher in cities, but so are living expenses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average salaries for forensic psychologists are highest in the states of New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia, Connecticut and California. Boston, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are among the highest paying metropolitan regions. The states with the most forensic psychologist jobs as of 2016 were Arizona, Florida, New York, California and Texas.
How Much Money Do Forensic Psychologists Make?
According to research conducted by PayScale, forensic psychologists in the US typically make between $37,417 and $114,853 annually with an average salary of $63,000. Geography partially accounts for the disparity in pay, but experience is the greater determining factor; forensic psychologists tend to stay in their field and make more money over time. Unsurprisingly, they also usually express high job satisfaction. Forensic psychologists in private practice or those who work for private law firms can make considerably more money than civil servants, but establishing a financially viable private practice can take many years.
What Degrees or Certificates Do You Need to Become a Forensic Psychologist?
Most psychology careers require at least a master’s degree, so those who wish to pursue forensics should look for graduate programs in psychology and law. Completing a doctoral program greatly increases your job prospects. Fortunately, some institutions offer joint PhD and law degrees. Since forensic psychologists often work for the government, many jobs also require special certificates and licenses, but employers will often pay for job-specific training. While you are a psychology student, you should strive to obtain real-world experience by seeking research opportunities and internships related to criminal justice.
How Long Will it Take to Graduate and Be on the Job Market?
If you’re currently pursing a bachelor’s degree, majoring in psychology with a minor in criminal justice or criminology will accelerate your path to becoming a forensic psychologist. Otherwise, you may need to complete prerequisite classes before applying to a master’s program, although you may be able to bypass them if you already work in the fields of law enforcement or mental health. Master’s programs typically take 2-3 years to complete, while doctoral programs can take up to 8 years to finish.
Are Careers in Psychology Worth It?
In short, pursuing a career in psychology is absolutely worth it. This is especially true for sports psychology. As an athlete, you’ll be in a unique position to offer insight and counseling to other athletes. Sports psychologists often say that the job is extremely rewarding, and there are not as many drawbacks as you may find with other, more grueling psychology careers.
Forensic psychologists have a lot of upward mobility in terms of what types of jobs they can take and how much money they can make. Because science, technology and investigation techniques are always evolving, forensic psychologists must be life-long learners. Many jobs in the field require on-going training and certification renewals, but the rewards are substantial for those willing to stick with the profession.
PayScale (2017) Forensic Psychologist Salary. Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Forensic_Psychologist/Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017) Careers in Forensics: Analysis, Evidence, and Law. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2009/spring/art02.pdf
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017) Occupational Employment and Wages: Forensic Science Technicians. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes194092.htm