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Forensic Psychology Job Description: What You’ll Do

Here’s what you’ll do in a career in forensic psychology.

forensic psychologist with patient

Many people find the study of psychology fascinating when applied to criminal behavior. What makes some people deviate from societal norms to the point of committing crimes? Forensic psychologists ponder this question and many others. They use principles of psychology to get to the root of criminal behavior in specific cases, actively working alongside the legal and criminal justice systems in their communities.

Forensic psychologists evaluate criminals to learn what their mindset and motives were at the time of an offense. They gauge what threat, if any, the offender will be to the public in the future. Their presence in courtrooms is often essential.

Their evaluations, assessments and testimonies help inform the decisions of judges and juries. In addition, forensic psychologists often work with children who are caught in the middle of custody battles. They serve at-risk populations and trauma survivors by advocating for their wellness and justice in specific cases.

What does a forensic psychologist do?

On the job, forensic psychologists:

  • Apply psychology to the criminal justice system
  • Assess offenders’ state of mind at time of offense
  • Assess competency of individuals to stand trial
  • Assess risk of re-offending
  • Assess witness credibility
  • Evaluate child custody in divorce
  • Prepare for and provide testimony in court
  • Assess consistency of factual information across multiple sources
  • Advise police on mental illness and criminal psychology
  • Consult with attorneys on mental health issues in the court system
  • Work with at-risk populations such as trauma survivors
  • Design correctional programs

What education or certification will I need to become a forensic psychologist?

Most forensic specialists need at least a four-year bachelor’s degree and sometimes a master’s degree, which will take one- to-two years to obtain. Although some people who pursue their master’s in psychology have earned their bachelor’s in the field as well, you can have a bachelor’s degree in another field such as criminal justice.

Like most psychology specializations, entry into forensic psychology requires extensive study and many years of experience in the field. Learn more about what you’ll study.

Doctoral degree programs in psychology take approximately five to six years to complete. Programs in certain areas of professional psychology require a one year internship as part of the doctoral program. Those earning a PhD in forensic psychology are required to complete a residency training program under a practicing clinician; this residency can take up to three years to complete.

Licensing and certification guidelines for psychologists vary by state; be sure to check the guidelines for the region in which you plan to study.

What career paths can I take in forensic psychology?

As a forensic psychologist, you can provide vital services in the legal and criminal justice system of a specific area. You can also work in universities, research centers, hospitals, medical examiners’ offices, forensic laboratories, police departments or as an independent consultant.

Learn about pay & job projections for forensic psychologists.

The study of human behavior and crime intersects in a variety of ways. Career fields that share some overlapping characteristics and duties with forensic psychology include clinical psychology, forensic anthropology, forensic biology and forensic social work.