A forensic psychologist addresses the psychological issues arising in legal settings. Normally, the issues deal with the diagnosis of mental illnesses and the assessment of understanding, competence, and risk of offending or criminal behavior.
To qualify as a forensic psychologist you must have attended an accredited graduate course and obtained a doctoral degree in psychology, that is must be a Doctor or Psychology (Psy.D.) or a Doctor of Philosophy in psychology (Ph.D.). This will take about five years. While Ph.D. courses emphasize research, Psy.D. courses focus on clinical engagement. To enroll in a graduate course you will most probably have to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as well as a psychology subject test. While your undergraduate major need not necessarily be psychology, it will help you with your course work. Other beneficial subjects to take in the undergraduate level are law or criminal justice. As forensic psychologists need to testify in court especially as expert witnesses, they need to be able to communicate clearly.
Before you can start your practice, you need to get a license from the government by clearing the appropriate examination. This is over and above your doctoral degree. You also have to prove that you have completed supervised clinical internships both during and after graduation. Many states expect at least a year’s professional experience.
The jobs that a forensic psychologist does are varied. These sessions can take place in private offices, hospitals, clinics, and prisons. Typical work profile could include a court appearance to testify about the viability of an insanity claim, evaluation of a criminal defendant to ensure competency to stand trial, helping an attorney to pick the most psychologically effective way of presenting a case to a jury, or writing a report on the suitability of a child for adoption.
As forensic psychology is closely related to law, many issues need knowledge of the two fields. For instance, forensic psychologists, judges and lawyers could debate on issues such as the culpability of minors or the effectiveness of criminal profiling.
Forensic psychology aims to serve justice by applying the principles of psychology to understand the perspectives and motives of the various people involved in a crime.. Though television and movies have succeeded in sensationalizing the work done by forensic psychologists, one has to keep in mind that this portrayal is exaggerated.
The majority of forensic psychologists are part of the criminal justice system. They have varied duties. Forensic psychologists are asked to assess the mental state of an accused at the time of the crime. They also have to analyze a suspect and come up with the possible motives for the crime. Moreover, forensic psychologists advise lawyers of the diagnosis and treatment of offenders who have been classified as mentally ill. Some forensic psychologists spend all their time exclusively on research. Such people usually work in universities and colleges. They design and conduct studies to fathom the reason behind particular people or populations committing certain crimes. This helps them come up with ways to prevent such crimes. Additionally, private mental institutions, correctional facilities, and non-profit organizations also need and employ forensic psychologists.
This work needs a totally dedicated professional who cares deeply for both psychology and criminal justice. One will find a career as a forensic psychologist rewarding as one can serve justice and help the innocent. However, it can be a stressful and challenging career even for experienced individuals. As a forensic psychologist, you must be willing to spend time in prisons. You will have to interact with prisoners and convicts, some of whom are dangerous and convicted of having committed heinous crimes.
To work as a forensic psychologist you need an advanced degree. First you need a doctorate to become a licensed psychologist. By specializing in forensics or criminal justice in your doctoral thesis you can become a forensic psychologist. Some universities and colleges offer a degree in forensic psychology. The majority just offer a focus on this field. Whether you plan to work in the criminal justice system or continue research work at a university, you need a PhD if you want to specialize in forensic psychology.
One should also keep in mind that the average income of a forensic psychologist is not as much as that of other professionals with doctoral degrees. If you plan to finance your graduate education by applying for loans, you might have insufficient income to repay the same. This issue can be addressed by obtaining your degree from a web-based school that offers an online forensic psychology degree. By opting for an online degree course you will have the flexibility to continue working at a paying job thereby obtaining experience and reducing your debt load.
After obtaining a doctoral degree and gaining substantial experience, forensic psychologists are eligible to apply for certification by the American Board of Forensic Psychology. This certification is a measurement of excellence, recognized by the industry. After certification you will be a Diplomat of Forensic Psychology.