Career in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology careers and information about careers in forensic psychology can be hard to find. Students involved in editing this blog have had classroom assignments to reach out to forensic psychologists and to interview them about their careers in forensic psychology. Some of us have tried to cold call and spam forensic psychologists for a few minutes of their time to share this valuable information about their forensic psychology career. However, we reached out to our network of mentors with careers in forensic psychology to bring you undergraduate students out there the following information about these careers. Here is what we found.
Forensic psychology is defined by the application of the science of psychology and its methods to the task of assisting the court in some type of judicial matter. By definition, this limits careers in forensic psychology. The bottom line is, psychologists will be using psychological methods, which include research, assessment and to some extent therapy, in order to answer various questions for the court.
Therefore, you may ask “if all of the forensic psychologists are doing the same things (research, assessment and therapy), then how varied can the careers in forensic psychology be? This is a good question. And from what we have been told, the variety is driven by the subspecialties in forensic psychology created by the areas of law that have intersections with the field of psychology. Here are some examples.
Some forensic psychologists focus on matters related to civil cases while others focus on matters related to family or criminal law. It is rarer for a forensic psychologist to legitimately claim to focus on all three of these areas; though, some do. In order to qualify for board certification in forensic psychology, you will be expected to produce two independent work samples demonstrating your knowledge in two separate areas of forensic psychology. Therefore, it is reasonable to claim to be competent in at least two of these areas. However, forensic psychologists claiming to be competent in 10 areas (across criminal, civil and family law) may face legitimate challenges to their competency.
One career in forensic psychology involves the assessment of competence to stand trial. From what we heard, this is the most popularly requested type of forensic mental health assessment. Psychologists apply the practices, principles and methods of psychology to inform the court on whether a defendant is able to intelligently, knowingly and purposefully participate in his/her trial. In the criminal arena, another career in forensic psychology involves assessing whether a defendant is able to understand the wrongfulness of their actions as a function of their mental state at the time of their offense. In other words, this career in forensic psychology involves assessing defendants to determine whether or not they could be found to be not guilty by reason of insanity.
In the civil arena, another career in forensic psychology involves assessing litigants to determine if they were psychologically harmed due to a particular action. If such harm is established, the lawyer that retains this forensic psychologist may introduce the forensic psychologist’s report at trial and call him or her for testimony in pursuit of monetary damages for that litigant. Another career in forensic psychology involves the assessment of sex offenders getting out of jail to determine whether or not they are safe to reenter the public after they have completed their debt to society. If found unsafe by that forensic psychologist, the former offender could be civilly committed for an indefinite period of time until he or she becomes safe to reenter society. While this might seem like a criminal career in forensic psychology, it is actually within the civil arena because this hypothetical offender would have already completed, or be on the verge of completing, their sentence for the crime they have committed.
Within the family law, careers in forensic psychology might include helping the court determine which parent is in the best interests of the child during a divorce custody dispute. Another career might involve assessing family members to determine whether or not a child has been harmed by a parent’s actions in a child protection matter. Another interesting career in forensic psychology involves the assessment of families in immigration cases to determine whether it would be an exceptional hardship for a father or mother to be deported and separated from the child or another family member and whether or not it would be an exceptional hardship for all of the family members to go to the country that the family member will be returning if deported.
I know many of you undergraduate students thought that careers in forensic psychology involved helping the police catch the bad guy. From what we understand, these professionals are rarely psychologists. Rather they are police officers with specialized training in behavioral profiling. There are forensic psychologists within police departments, but they typically spend their day assessing potential officers for their suitability to carry a firearm.
Many of you undergraduate students also thought forensic psychologists worked in prisons doing therapy. However, these professionals are known as correctional psychologists. Again, the definition of forensic psychology involves applying the practices, principles and methods of psychology in order to aid the court during a judicial process. Providing therapy to an offender who is already incarcerated and has completed their judicial process is great but has nothing to do with ongoing litigation or a question before the court. Thus, this is not a forensic psychology career.
Hopefully, the above has shed light on various careers in forensic psychology. Hopefully, many of you are not disappointed about what a forensic psychologist actually is doing on a day-to-day basis. Rather, we hope that you are happy to have learned that you can actually become a professional providing therapy in a prison, or a cop trying to capture the bad guy, with just a master’s degree as opposed to a doctoral degree and the postdoctoral experience that is required to be a forensic psychologist.