Thanks to depictions in popular movies, television shows and books, the field of forensic psychology has seen a boom in interest. However, what you see on the screen and what you read is not always accurate. Forensic psychologists are often portrayed as near-psychics who can predict a killer’s next move or track down a criminal and solve crimes using only psychology. Characters like Sherlock Holmes, Horatio Caine of CSI: Miami, Brenda Leigh Johnson of The Closer and even B.D. Wong of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit do not paint a realistic portrait of what it’s like to work as a forensic psychologist. The media shows forensic psychologists working solely in high-profile, dramatic cases, making intellectual leaps and operating on hunches. But if the depiction we see in popular entertainment isn’t accurate, what is a forensic psychologist, really?
What do forensic psychologists really do?
Forensic psychology isn’t always as high stakes and intense as seen on TV, and it’s definitely not about using inference and psychological principles to convict criminals. In fact, psychologists working in forensic psychology may not be forensic psychologists at all. They could be clinical psychologists, school psychologists, neurologists or counselors who serve as expert witnesses for a trial. Forensic psychology simply means applying theories and practices in psychology to the criminal justice arena.
There are psychologists that work solely in the criminal justice system. These forensic psychologists work in various sectors of the court system, including family, civil and criminal courts. They may assist in custody hearings, insurance claims, working with child witnesses or determining whether or not a defendant is fit to stand trial.
The scope of the work in forensic psychology differs from that of clinical psychology. While clinical psychologist and counselors seek to treat the entire patient over a prolonged period of time, forensic psychologists are typically asked to perform a very narrow task. Forensic psychologists also typically see clients and patients who are not there on their own free will. This can make the job more difficult, as patients may resist help.
How much do they make?
Salaries within forensic psychology vary depending on the level of education and training a psychologist has and the sector in which they work. Those with master’s degrees typically hold the title of psychological assistance or associate. Entry-level salaries range between $35,000 and $40,000. Forensic psychologists with a doctorate degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) can expect to earn between $60,000 and $70,000 annually, while those in private practice can earn upward of $85,000.
Is this career right for me?
It’s important to do the research before deciding on a career. In order to be successful in the field of psychology, students must commit to a lengthy education. Students who enjoy both criminal justice and psychology may be happiest in this career.
Forensic psychologists should also enjoy a challenge. They often face time constraints and resistant clients; these professionals should be able to bring patience and creativity to the challenges that arise. Forensic psychologists often work with a team of other professionals—not just with patients. For this reason, those who wish to enter the field should be team players and have strong people skills.
How can I become one?
Most psychologists hold a doctorate degree. Opportunities for those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology are not as common. However, a less advanced degree can be a great place to start. It’s a way to get your feet wet in the field without investing a considerable amount of time and money in graduate and post-graduate school. You can even earn your online psychology degree.
Psychologists must also be licensed in order to practice in all states. Typically, licensure requirements include an advanced (master’s level or beyond) degree in psychology, one to two years of professional experience and a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.
If you’re interested in starting a career in forensic psychology, Brescia University is a great place to start. Brescia offers on-campusonline classes through the undergraduate psychology program. Find out more about Brescia and whether or not psychology is right for you!
Established in 1950, Brescia University is a Catholic, liberal arts institution founded in the Ursuline tradition of personal and social transformation through education. With the advent of BUonline, Brescia brings accredited undergraduate and graduate programs to students across the nation. Brescia’s commitment to a student-centered environment rewards students who seek success through meaningful careers and service to others.