10 Top Career Paths in Forensic Psychology (2021 Update)
- March 12, 2021
- Posted by: Amber Bobnar
- Category: Career Guides,
Updated on Mar 12, 2021
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 neuropsychologists 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 2019 were Arizona, Florida, New York, California, and Texas.
How Much Money Do Forensic Psychologists Make?
Forensic psychologists in the US as of 2021 make between $39,000 and $101,000 annually, with an average salary of $72,338. 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.
Popular Forensic Psychology Career Paths
As the field of forensic psychology continues to grow, the careers you can choose with a forensic psychology degree are becoming more widespread and intriguing. The practice of forensic psychology remains prevalent and will continue to bridge the gap between psychology and the criminal justice system.
1. Correctional Counselor
Correctional counselors provide the essential tools that inmates and ex-convicts need to help transition away from their criminal pasts and behaviors and toward living a fulfilling life. A correctional counselors’ central goal is to provide support to their clients while developing strategies to prevent criminals from lapsing and reoffending with the law.
Because correctional counselors administer treatment and counseling to inmates and ex-convicts, they must have a master’s degree to work inside a correctional facility. A correctional counselor may also concentrate on delivering psychological evaluations to provide in-depth insights into an inmate’s well-being.
2. Jury Consultant
Jury consultants are human behavior experts who work beside lawyers to provide insight into which potential jurors may be the best fit for a trial. The role of developing strategies and helping shape a jury’s perception within the court system requires a master’s degree.
The most valuable courses students can take to become a jury consultant include jury selection and courtroom dynamics. The ideal jury consultant possesses intuition and a strong knowledge of human behavior to help lawyers identify arguments and develop strategies to steer a case towards a favorable outcome.
3. Forensic Social Worker
Forensic social workers apply social work methods to ensure their clients’ voice is heard and respected within the legal system. Because forensic social workers are responsible for diagnosing, providing treatment, and developing recommendations for their clients, it is imperative to have a master’s degree in social work.
To succeed as a forensic social worker, it is vital to have a strong knowledge of the legal environment while providing education and training to lawmakers, attorneys, and law students. Forensic social workers are versatile and work with diverse age ranges while handling child custody, juvenile arrests, and divorce.
4. Expert Witness
An expert witness has a specialized set of skills to testify based on their experience, knowledge, and expertise in their respective field. The most trustworthy expert witness has at least a bachelor’s degree to demonstrate to a jury they can present an expert opinion based on foundational facts agreed upon by other experts in the field while providing impartial and unbiased evidence to the court.
Before a trial occurs, expert witnesses must provide a report that summarizes their analysis and conclusions while sharing their report with all parties to allow each party to cross-examine the expert efficiently and effectively.
5. Forensic Psychology Professor
Forensic psychology professors present stimulating and dynamic discussions through teaching, guiding, and inspiring students. A minimum of a master’s degree is required to become a forensic psychology professor, and Ph.D.’s are common. The majority of forensic psychology professors work within educational institutions and publish personal research findings in scholarly journals.
By combining psychology and law, forensic psychology professors provide direction and leadership in the classroom to inspire young adults and provide effective feedback to their students. They can often be expected to demonstrate latest practices and be thought leaders in the field.
6. Forensic Psychology Researcher
A forensic psychology researcher examines statistics and data to discover trends, identify patterns, and uncover new revelations. After receiving a master’s degree, a forensic psychology researcher can apply analysis to clinical and correctional settings to provide a framework to implement and approach ways to improve psychology research advancement.
A forensic psychology researcher is skilled in problem-solving, thinking critically, and applying in-depth research to enhance criminal assessments and analyze the various treatment techniques used for criminals to uphold the legal system’s most beneficial practices.
7. Forensic Case Manager
A forensic case manager’s role is to administer thorough treatment and address convicts’ obstacles due to mental illness or substance abuse issues. While obtaining a master’s degree in forensic psychology, a forensic case manager will study the criminal justice system and become educated about mental health and substance abuse.
A forensic case manager refers clients to the appropriate mental health, drug abuse, or alcoholism treatment centers and recommends support to their clients while monitoring their progress. The ability to think creatively to create effective treatment plans and communicate and present ideas to the justice system is the core of a forensic case manager.
8. Criminal Profiler
A criminal profiler excels in recognizing human behaviors and characteristics while building psychological profiles to identify a crime suspect. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminal justice, and forensics is the foundation of becoming a criminal profiler, though possessing a graduate degree is common.
A criminal profiler visits crime scenes, analyzes evidence, writes detailed reports, and provides court testimony. The most skilled criminal profiler has compelling insight, attention to detail, and analytical skills while discovering things that most people miss. A criminal profiler utilizes evidence and social cues, and other patterns to identify a criminal.
9. Forensic Psychologist
It probably comes as no surprise that forensic psychologist is one of the careers you can pursue with a forensic psychology degree. A forensic psychologist practices psychology within the justice system to understand why criminal behavior occurs and how they can help minimize and prevent criminal activity in the future. A minimum of a master’s degree is required to become a forensic psychologist. This is because forensic psychologists are often called upon to offer psychotherapy, conduct mental evaluations, and assess competency.
A forensic psychologist applies their knowledge of forensic psychology principles and studies and analyzes criminal behavior to help narrow down suspects and provide a motive for a crime. A forensic psychologist may also act as an expert witness during a criminal trial and give testimony about why a suspect committed a crime.
10. Correctional Psychologist
A correctional psychologist provides mental health treatment, helps rehabilitate inmates, and supports the transition from prison to the outside world. A correctional psychologist needs a doctoral degree to treat inmates and conduct psychological evaluations to reinforce the treatment plan.
To become a correctional psychologist, you will study forensic psychology, criminal profiling, and advanced statistics while becoming licensed by the state in which you practice. A correctional psychologist is personable, resilient, and compassionate towards their clients and helps reduce inmates’ risk and safety while applying their awareness on prison’s psychological effects.
What Degrees or Certificates Do You Need to Become a Forensic Psychologist?
Most forensic psychology jobs 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 Ph.D. 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 pursuing a forensic psychology degree, 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?
Psychology master’s programs typically take 2-3 years to complete, while doctoral programs in psychology can take up to 8 years to finish. If you’re currently pursuing 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.
Are Careers in Forensic Psychology Worth It?
Pursuing a career in forensic psychology can be highly rewarding. 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, law enforcement 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 returns can be substantial for those willing to stick with the profession.
PayScale (2021) Forensic Psychologist Salary. Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Forensic_Psychologist/Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009) Careers in Forensics: Analysis, Evidence, and Law. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2009/spring/art02.pdf
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) Occupational Employment and Wages: Forensic Science Technicians. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes194092.htm