What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do Anyway?

Are you good at reading people? Are you a good judge of character? Do you want to help people in trouble? You might make a good forensic psychologist.

If you are a fan of NCIS, the character played by David McCallum, known on the show as Ducky, is an appealing mix of forensic expert and psychologist.  But don’t worry, if you’re not into cutting apart dead bodies, that is not at all what a forensic psychologist does. TV loves to blend roles that, in the real world, have nothing to do with each other. If you choose to go into this career field, you will be working solely with living clients as you try to assess their characters, needs, abilities and even psychological illnesses.
Earned Respect

A flesh and blood forensic psychologist frequently works 12-14 hour days. This position is crucial to running a functional court room and providing help for families and victims through counseling. You will be respected. You will be in demand. But know that you will work hard for this respect and put in long hours because your skills and intelligence are so necessary.

“The training of a forensic psychologist involves a collegiate background in science and often at least an M.S. in psychology. It is even more helpful to get a double undergraduate degree including one in criminology.” From How Does a Forensic Psychologist Spend a Workday, by Silas Reed.

What You Would Do as a Forensic Psychologist:

Courtesy of American Board of Forensic Psychology

Courtroom & Legal Duties Consultation & Training
Court-appointed monitoring of compliance with settlements in class-action suits affecting mental health or criminal justice settings Specialized treatment service to individuals involved with the legal system
Research, testimony and consultation on psychological issues impacting the legal process, such as eyewitness testimony, jury selection, children’s testimony, repressed memories and pretrial publicity Mediation and conflict resolution
Testimony and evaluation regarding civil issues such as personal injury, child custody, employment discrimination, mental disability, product liability, professional malpractice, civil commitment and guardianship Consultation and training to law enforcement, criminal justice and correctional systems
Psychological evaluation and expert testimony regarding criminal forensic issues such as trial competency, waiver of Miranda rights, criminal responsibility, death penalty mitigation, battered woman syndrome, domestic violence, drug dependence, and sexual disorders Assessment, treatment and consultation regarding individuals with a high risk for aggressive behavior in the community, in the workplace, in treatment settings and in correctional facilities
Analysis of issues related to human performance, product liability and safety Consultation and training to mental health systems and practitioners on forensic issues
Policy and program development in the psychology-law arena Consultation to lawmakers about public policy issues with psychological implications


Specific Forensic Research

There are a number of activities that involve the forensic psychologist. You could decide to specialize and become the go-to expert in your specialty. Here is one real-life example of a study conducted to help in the field of forensics:

UBCO study finds facial clues can reveal fake or sincere remorse”. This report, supervised by Leanne ten Brinke, is helpful to various branches of the law, including parole officers, by helping them decide who is sincere and who is faking it. Those who are pretending to have an emotion seemed to be filled with all kinds of extreme sentiments.

“We found that during falsified remorse, people showed a greater range of emotional expression,” she says. “They were more likely to show anger and contempt, where as the genuine folks didn’t show these kinds of emotions.”

“Particularly in the lower face, liars were much more likely to be what we termed as ‘emotionally turbulent,’” says ten Brinke.

“This means they were more likely to jump from positive to negative emotions immediately. During genuine remorse, people are more likely to return to a neutral emotion in between the extremes.”

So What Does it Take to be a Licensed Forensic Psychologist?

In order to be board certified, you must:

  • Complete BS in Forensic Psychology (4 years of schooling)
  • Earn your MS in Forensic Psychology (involves 2 years of graduate school)
  • Earn your PhD in Applied Psychology or Forensic Psychology (5-7 more years of school)
  • Apply for Specialty Certification in Forensic Psychology
  • IF you want to be licensed*: Pass both written and oral exams given by American Board of Forensic Psychology (There is an entire reading list to study for these exams after graduation. See abfp.com for more info.)

*Licensure not required by every state
Rewards Not Necessarily Financial

Compensation is low for the 11-13 or so years of schooling you’ll complete and career burnout is high because of the sensitive nature of the work itself. Starting salary for forensic psychologists is about $35,000, perhaps as high as $40,000 if you’re lucky.

It would be part of your job to talk to all kinds of people – including women and children – who have been the victims of violent crimes. You would give evidence in court about a specific issues that will affect the outcome of the trial like: the victim’s fitness for trial, domestic disputes or drug use and a number of other emotionally charged issues. Your testimony will make a difference in court proceedings. You can help those who otherwise might be victimized by the system. Think of the good you could do.

How Would You Spend Your Time As a Forensic Psychologist?

Time represented for workday: 12 hours – from 6 am to 6 pm

Tune in for Part II of this career study. Take a forensic psychologist matching quiz to lean more about what this professional world requires.
Is this career for you? Sign up today to get your forensic psychology degree and make a big difference in the world!


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