With society’s obsession with finding out what goes on inside the mind of a criminal, it’s no wonder that the field of forensic psychology is so fascinating. Here is a short primer on the field and how it affects the criminal justice system.


Forensic psychology is the study of clinical psychology in legal situations. This refers to the study of the relationship between human psychology and the criminal justice system. This is a broad definition of the term, allocating room for research and academic study of psychology and law; the narrow definition refers to the professional psychological assessment of an individual who is currently participating in a legal process. This can be an assessment to understand a person’s state of mind during a crime, their ability to stand trial, witness credibility, and more.

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Forensic Psychology Education Requirements

Working as a psychologist usually requires a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Psy.D. degree, but there are some job opportunities in school and industrial organizations that may become available after a student has earned a master’s degree. However, specializing in forensic psychology doesn’t necessarily require a doctorate. A student’s future employment goals will usually dictate the type of degree required for work.

For future forensic psychologists, the educational journey begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from an accredited university or college. Some students may choose to major in psychology with a concentration in forensic psychology, but other students may find it more advantageous to earn a degree in a related area like criminal psychology. Some students choose to adopt a minor in criminology or criminal justice while earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology or a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology.

Duties and Responsibilities

Depending on whether a forensic psychologist works in the academic or applied field, their duties and responsibilities will differ. Academic psychologists in this field focus on research methods to create more accurate psychological assessments, learn how psychology and crime relate to one another and are responsible for reforming psychological aide within the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists who work in the field are responsible for the psychological assessment of their subjects and in some cases, when they work in the correctional system, they may be the primary psychologist for inmates. Because this is a clinical profession, all forensic psychologists are required to have a Ph.D. in Psychology prior to entering the field; certification and licensing are also necessary.

Employment Opportunities

Forensic psychologists can work in a variety of workplaces. Academics in the field often work in labs, colleges, or research centers that focus on this area; they can also find placement in government agencies who support their work. Forensic psychologists in the fieldwork for law firms, courts, the government, in mental health facilities, halfway homes, parole programs, hospitals, state correctional systems, and rehabilitation facilities. In some cases, forensic psychologists can work as consultants, building their own brand and working on contracts that they receive from law enforcement, the government, and private law firms. It is always a possibility that these psychologists can go to work in the intelligence community as instructors, training agents to spot criminal behavior through psychological analysis.

Professional Organizations and Certification

An organization of which future forensic psychologists should become familiar is the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP). The ABFP designs the certification process for forensic psychology, which is administered by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Certification in forensic psychology is a post-doctoral specialty certification that is recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA).

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” — Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) Psychology Today

The certification process requires that candidates submit to a credential and practice sample review, as well as pass a three-hour oral examination by three ABFP board-certified forensic psychologists. After becoming board-certified, a forensic psychologist may pursue an area of expertise in adult psychology, child & family psychology, law enforcement, or forensic neuropsychology.

Forensic psychologists may also want to become familiar with the American Psychology-Law Society, which is a division of the APA, where members are interested in law and psychology issues. Local groups for the American Psychology-Law Society are located throughout the United States, and there are also student chapters that may be of value to those currently enrolled in degree programs in forensic psychology.

Average Income of a Forensic Psychologist

According to the Occupational Employment Statistics Page from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), specialized psychologists like forensic psychologists may expect a mean annual wage of more than $98,000 a year. That translates into a mean hourly wage of more than $47.00. At the start of a career, a forensic psychologist may expect to earn around $46,000 per year, but top earners in the industry can expect to bring home wages of $129,530 per year.

Forensic psychologists tend to earn the most when they work for the offices of various health practitioners, as well as when they’re employed by the federal government. High wages may also be earned by those working at hospitals, as well as by forensic professionals working in the offices of physicians and in educational facilities like colleges, universities, and professional schools.

Importance in the Criminal Justice System

Forensic psychology has a great deal of importance in the criminal justice system; the study of human behavior gives law enforcement and the justice system a chance to see how and why crimes occur and how pre-existing mental health issues could contribute to crime. While the study in this area is ongoing, forensic psychologists are putting forth an effort to help rehabilitate inmates with a history of continued offenses. The idea is to break the cycle of their behavior so they no longer have to be incarcerated for their actions. These psychologists also provide a professional and specialized recommendation to the court about whether a person is competent enough to stand trial; if mental health treatment is needed after a conviction, the forensic psychologist can also make recommendations on that.

This is a fascinating area of study for any psychology, but it does require an objective mind and some compassion. While this is a new specialization within psychology, it is one that is growing in prominence in the American criminal justice system. Now that the answer to what is forensic psychology has been revealed, those interested in pursuing this career can begin researching schools that confer this degree.

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