The intersection of law and psychology may be appealing to you if you have a deep interest and passion for social justice. A master’s degree in forensic psychology can open the door to a wide range of careers.
With a few different forensic behavioral sciences and criminal psychology career avenues to choose from, you may be wondering which one is the right fit for you. Keep reading to learn if forensic psychology is right for you and what you can do with a master’s in this field.
What Is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology is a unique and sometimes misunderstood line of work. As a subfield of psychology, this discipline refers to the application of psychological principles as they apply to the legal justice system. Forensic psychology involves the examination of mental health conditions and their involvement in the criminal justice system.
What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?
A forensic psychologist contributes their expert knowledge of psychology in criminal matters. The duties of a forensic psychologist may vary. Professionals in this field need to have dynamic forensic skills to properly assess people involved in the legal justice system psychologically.
The duties of a forensic psychologist can include the following:
- Conducting interviews
- Analyzing crime scene evidence
- Evaluating mental disorders
- Creating reports for criminal profiles
- Presenting cases
- Testifying in court as an expert witness
- Assessing mental competency and treatment options
- Counseling and providing therapy for crime victims
- Performing evaluations for child custody rulings
- Sharing new research
- Consulting with legal employers
A lot of a forensic psychologist’s job can be showcased in a courtroom. During a trial, a forensic psychologist may work as an advisor on the case or testify as an expert witness. They might share insights on a person’s competency and recommendations as to what treatment or sentencing would be appropriate. They may also assist in narrowing suspect lists.
The responsibilities and skills needed from a forensic psychologist vary depending on the type of position they hold. Common skills needed to work within this field include:
- Excellent communication skills.
- Sharp critical thinking.
- The ability to remain objective and unbiased.
- Close attention to detail.
- Great investigative skills.
- Interviewing skills.
What Is the Difference Between Forensic Psychology and Forensic Psychiatry?
Forensic psychology is often mistaken for forensic psychiatry. Both play an important role in the crossover of criminal justice with psychology, and both require advanced educations — but the two work through different lenses.
In short, forensic psychology is the study of how mental health affects and applies to the justice system. This line of work requires a master’s degree or higher. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, and they are not practicing medical doctors. Instead, they are mental health professionals that are to be licensed in the state in which they practice.
Forensic psychiatry is largely scientific. This field hones in on the brain’s biology and how it applies to the criminal justice system. A psychiatrist with a medical doctorate actively treats and diagnoses patients with mental health conditions and disorders. Without a doctorate, individuals with a Forensic Psychiatry bachelor’s degree can assist with research or work in social work.
What Is the Salary for a Forensic Psychologist?
The salary of a forensic psychologist can vary greatly depending on where they work and the level of expertise they have. Someone with a master’s in forensic psychology can earn a higher salary than someone with a bachelor’s. Some of the contributing factors to forensic psychology salaries include:
- Education level.
- Amount of experience.
- Level of expertise.
- Any additional certifications.
Forensic psychologists can earn anywhere from about $53,000 to $105,000 each year. On average, people are earning more than $87,000 each year working in this field. For individuals working in private law firms or clinical psychologists working in forensics, it is common to earn upwards of $100,000 a year.
Where Do Forensic Psychologists Work?
A forensic psychologist can work in a variety of settings, usually in places closely related to law or medicine. Some of the common workplaces in this field include:
- Police stations and departments.
- Medical examiners’ offices.
- Forensic labs.
- Research centers.
- Inpatient health care facilities.
- Outpatient care centers.
- Criminal detention centers.
- Corrections facilities.
- Government agencies.
Forensic psychologists that work as independent consultants can work from a number of these areas depending on their clients.
How to Get a Master’s in Forensic Psychology
If you’re considering getting a Forensic Psychology master’s degree, you may be asking yourself one or both of the following questions:
- What prerequisites do I need? Many post-graduate programs require students to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a specific amount of semester hours in psychology courses in order to qualify for enrollment.
- How do I get into a Forensic Psychology master’s program? Many schools, including Holy Names University, do not require a graduate record examination (GRE) to be accepted into the graduate program for this line of study. However, every program is different and will require some research.
Once you have been accepted into a master’s program, it typically takes two to four years to complete depending on requirements and your full-time or part-time status as a student.
What Do You Learn in Forensic Psychology?
When studying forensic psychology, you will learn about the intersection of law and psychology as well as social justice. With the principles of forensic psychology, you will learn how to interact with and assess individuals dealing with mental health conditions and disorders. You will discover how to critically examine and analyze the criminal justice system as it impacts certain demographics.
At Holy Names University, the Forensic Psychology master’s program learning outcomes include:
- Familiarity with the legal and criminal justice systems.
- Professional, ethical, and legal competence.
- Diversity and cultural competence.
- Research and writing fluency.
- Psychological and criminological theories.
What Classes are Required for Forensic Psychology?
While the requirements for earning a forensic psychology degree vary from one university to another, some courses are recommended for every individual to take as a Psychology major during undergrad. In addition to general psychology, these courses include:
- Abnormal psychology.
- Experimental psychology.
- Physiological psychology.
- Cognitive psychology.
- Social psychology.
- Personality psychology.
These courses will provide students with a strong foundation of knowledge they can apply when pursuing further education in this field. For someone looking to get their master’s degree in forensic psychology, the course requirements will vary depending on the school. For our Forensic Psychology master’s program at Holy Name University, there are 38 credit hours required to acquire your degree. Our course requirements include the following:
- Foundations of Forensic Psychology
- Forensic Psychology and the Law
- Psychology of Criminal Behavior
- Substance Abuse Assessment and Treatment
- Interventions and Treatment in Forensic Psychology
- Forensics: Psychometrics and Assessment
- Forensic Psychology Professional Practice Seminar
- Motivational Conversations: Focus on Change
- Advanced Issues in Correctional and Community Counseling
- Human Diversity in Counseling
- Domestic Violence Assessment and Treatment
- Supervised Forensic Practicum and Case Seminar
- Integrating Seminar
How to Get a Job as a Forensic Psychologist
There are a few avenues you can take while you are enrolled in your master’s program or after completion that will give you an edge in the job market. Here are some tips for getting a career related to forensic psychology after your master’s program:
- Get an internship or apprenticeship: Internships are a great way to get experience while still learning the ins and outs of your field. Many universities have programs and resources for students looking for internships. Being an intern or apprentice can boost your chances of getting a job either at the organization you are working with or with other similar establishments.
- Get your state-specific license: Because forensic psychology deals with such sensitive information and data, it requires hours of experience and obtaining a license for the state in which you wish to work.
- Engage in professional networking: Networking is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your career in almost any industry. Forensic psychology is no different. Connecting with professionals in your field is a great way to create relationships with potential employers. People in your network may forward opportunities your way and write recommendations for you when need be.
- Apply for jobs: Finding open positions to apply for will be easier with a network of people supporting you. However, there are plenty of websites dedicated to posting job openings that can help you find an opportunity that fits you.
What Jobs Can You Get With a Forensic Psychology Degree?
Forensic psychology is a growing field with a wide range of job options to choose from. You may find a career as a:
- Probation or parole officer: This position is typically held at a corrections agency. These officers work as primary points of contact between parolees and the legal system.
- Restorative justice advocate: Community resource centers bring on this position to help educate and provide support in the face of systematic injustices.
- Victim advocate: This job is often held in social services offices and is intended to represent the rights of crime victims.
- Jury consultant: This position works closely with and supports attorneys in the court system.
- Police consultant: These consultants work with police officers and detectives on cases.
- Federal government employee: This job takes place within a government organization, and its responsibilities can vary depending on the organization.
- Crime analyst: This position works closely with law enforcement professionals.
- An investigative journalist: Newspapers and other publications will hire forensic psychologists with writing skills to report on crimes.
- Correctional counselor: This position is held in a corrections facility to support and assist inmates through reform efforts.
- Jail supervisor: This position is held at a corrections facility and is intended to collect interviews and background information on inmates to improve security and safety.
- Licensed professional clinical counselor: Private facilities hire these counselors to conduct clinical assessments and find treatment options for individuals in the criminal justice system.
- Forensic research psychologist: This job involves conducting research and studying criminal history for court systems.
Forensic psychology careers can take you in many different directions. Finding the right path for you requires research and deciding on both the environment you want to work in and the responsibilities you are interested in having.
Are Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology the Same?
Both criminal psychology and forensic psychology are closely tied to criminal justice, but the fields are slightly different.
Criminal psychology concentrates on the behaviors and inner workings of a criminal’s mind. Professionals in this field study the motivations of a perpetrator along with the personal background that contributes to their behaviors. They examine everything from intentions to reactions of criminals. Criminal psychologists aim to answer an overarching question — why do criminals do what they do?
Forensic psychology focuses more on criminal and civil law. Professionals in this field work closely with several groups of people:
- Police officers
They seek out personality traits and demographic data to better understand the psychological factors at play and assist in solving crimes.
Criminal Psychology Career Paths
If you are considering criminal psychology as a career path, your level of education will largely determine the kinds of jobs available to you. The job of a criminal profiler is typically the most well-known in the field. As a criminal profiler, you will examine important data and information from a crime scene and compare and contrast it with evidence from other similar cases. While this discipline is popular because of shows like Criminal Minds and Law and Order, there are few job opportunities.
With a Criminal Psychology master’s degree, you can land one of the following positions:
- Crime scene investigator
- Behavior analyst
- Law enforcement advocate
- Rehabilitation counselor
- Academic researcher
- Case manager
- Trial consultant
- Social worker
Those with a doctorate degree in criminal psychology can work various additional jobs, including:
- Expert witness
- Clinical director
- Program director
- Criminal psychologist
Earn Your Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology at Holy Names University
Holy Names University welcomes you to pursue our Forensic Psychology master’s degree. We pride ourselves on small class sizes and individualized attention. Here, you can feel fully immersed in your program and prepared to enter the next phase of your career.
We are student-centered and committed to our mission to achieve social justice beyond the classroom. Request more information about achieving a Forensic Psychology master’s degree at Holy Names University on our website today!