What is forensic psychology?
We are surrounded and influenced by psychology in our everyday lives. Whether it is trying to communicate effectively with others or how to decipher the underlying feelings, motivations, and emotions of those around you, psychology, and within that, abnormal psychology, play an important and meaningful role. But if psychologists are trained mental health experts then what is a forensic psychologist?
In popular culture, forensic psychologists are best known as profilers who develop psychological profiles of criminals for law enforcement agencies. However, this picture of forensic psychology is somewhat limited. The word 'forensic' originates from the Latin word “forensics,” which means “the forum,” or the court system of Ancient Rome. It is for this reason that forensic psychology combines the practical application of psychological concepts and principles to law.
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As a subfield of psychology, forensic psychology covers an increasingly wide range of topics beyond the courtroom and the justice system but at the core, it attempts to understand criminals, their actions, and the causes of their behaviour. Unlike criminologists, lawyers, doctors and geographers, forensic psychology focuses on the specific individual rather than the broad trends in criminality.
This makes forensic psychological work an asset and tool for the court system, where the judge and/or jury can decide whether a person can be held responsible for his or her actions while committing a crime, and how likely they are to repeat the same offence if released from the system.
What does a forensic psychologist do?
There are a wide variety of roles and responsibilities that forensic psychologists may take, however, they are often related to the criminal justice system. In the judicial system, forensic psychologists play a vital role in shedding light on the mental functioning of defendants. They may be called by prosecutors or defence attorneys to evaluate a defendant, provide a psychological assessment, and testify on their findings in court.
These assessments can range from evaluating the presence of a psychological disorder to determining if the defendant has diminished mental capacity. Forensic psychologists will often work with victims of crime as well, both in an investigative and a therapeutic capacity. They often conduct investigations into child abuse, elder abuse, and domestic violence, and offer treatments to victims of such crimes after the fact.
How to become a forensic psychologist?
To begin, forensic psychologists must have a qualification in psychology such as a bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate studies generally focus on learning the essential features of human behaviour. Students that intend on becoming a forensic psychologist will then need to obtain a master’s degree in forensic psychology which will blend psychological and criminal justice studies together.
However, most forensic psychologists hold a PhD or Psy.D. in psychology with a concentration on forensics.
What kind of jobs in forensic psychology can you get?
Below, you will find a list of five forensic psychology jobs or career paths available within the field. While the list is diverse, it is not an exhaustive one. Many of these careers within forensic psychology will combine the duties and job functions of the specific careers below.
1. Criminal analyst
Crime analysts work closely with law enforcement to control, predict, and prevent crime. By analysing criminal data, criminal analysts search for common themes and trends to identify the factors that may cause a surge and/or reduction in crime rates.
From demographic, locational, and economic factors, such predictors may vary depending upon the type of crime and its severity. For example, crime analysts typically employ three different categories of data.
The first uses tactical means for severe and violent crimes such as rape, murder, and kidnapping. Strategic analyses are used to determine the most effective utilisation of law enforcement according to each particular type of crime teams and first responders. And finally, crime analysts use administrative research methods to provide agencies within the criminal justice system with sets of data they might require to develop and implement effective policies.
2. Correctional counsellor
Forensic psychologists can leverage their understanding of crime, punishment, and the legal and psychological ramifications of both to perform a variety of meaningful roles in the correctional system. This can include offering treatment and counselling for inmates and ex-convicts.
Additionally, forensic psychologists may assist in developing programs that help reduce recidivism rates. Correctional counsellors provide mental health counselling and support to prison inmates and often conduct both individual and group sessions with inmates. Correctional counsellors can provide deeper insights into the state and well-being of inmates and give recommendations into parole hearings.
3. Expert witness
An expert witness is someone who possesses a substantial amount of knowledge regarding a particular area or subject qualifying his or her opinion as reliable enough to be used as evidence in a criminal trial. As the opposing attorney will undoubtedly call into question an expert witness’ credentials, whoever enlisted the witness for testimony must be sure to thoroughly research and confirm their experience and industry authority beforehand.
4. Police consultant
Forensic psychologists are often hired by police departments to assist with various tasks. They often work with other law enforcement agents to help develop suicide prevention protocols and other training programs. Professionals in this field might also provide post-trauma counselling for victims as well as for family members of police officers.
Stress management is another area in which police departments utilise the skills of Law Enforcement Liaisons. Forensic psychologists who select this career may be asked to teach stress reduction techniques to officers and other employees of local, state, and federal police departments.
5. Forensic research psychologist
A researcher who works in forensic psychology studies different aspects of criminology. These professionals may conduct their research in a variety of different ways such as questioning suspects, victims, and the familial members and friends of both, studying the history of related crimes along with any conditions and demographic factors believed to be related to their cause, inspecting, and studying crime scenes, and examining any remaining evidence and/or evidence considered to be missing.
How much does a forensic psychologist make?
According to PayScale, the median annual wage for a forensic psychologist is $69,596, as of April 2020. The single largest factor that determines salary is one’s level of experience. Those just starting out in the field can expect to make around $38,000 per year. However, forensic psychologists with more than 20 years of experience can see a yearly salary of over $100,000.
The type of work setting, as well as where one lives, can largely impact a forensic psychologist’s salary as well. Individuals employed by government agencies generally make less than forensic psychologists that work independently on a contract basis. Similarly, workers in urban areas typically earn more money than do forensic psychologists in rural locations.
How to prepare for a career as a forensic psychologist?
Are you ready to take the first step towards narrowing your focus and career path towards becoming a forensic psychologist? Well, that is a big question to answer in and of itself from the outset, especially if you have not been exposed to this subfield of psychology before. So, before you decide and invest all your time and money into a degree or continuing education program, consider enrolling in Shaw Academy’s Professional Diploma in Forensic Psychology.
This comprehensive course gives you a sneak peek into what you can expect as a forensic psychologist. It spans 16 weeks and covers 32 lessons over four modules. At the end of the 16-week course, you will be able to apply the basic scientific, technical and specialised psychological knowledge and forensic methodology to aspects of the legal field. Plus, it is free to enrol for the first four weeks. If I were you, I would not wait until it is too late. Register now to secure your spot!
Join our Forensic Psychology course today!