Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is a rapidly growing industry which combines the science of psychology in conjunction with our legal system. Forensic psychologists are licensed clinical psychologists who have concentrated their efforts within our legal system, both civil and criminal arenas. These individual are called to work with government groups, law enforcement, courts and other organizations which assist in improving our justice system.

Overall, Forensic Psychology is a sub field of study within the discipline of psychology. This subdiscipline of psychology maintains its own training programs, research journals, and even its own professional organization. If you are looking for a new career to get into, this may be a perfect fit for you. The forensic psychology job description below should give you a rough idea of what may be in store for you.

What are Job Responsibilities of a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologists responsibilities range from legal matters, such as jury selection, child custody/family law, dispute resolution, civil damages, research, and determining the cognitive state of criminals (most common in TV shows). However, even within the field of psychology defining what a forensic psychologist actually does is still debated.

In one sense, some prominent psychologists define forensic psychology as any activities which would lead to the decision of a legal court. For example, when a psychologist determines a criminal unfit to testify or represent himself/herself in court, then this would be the action of a forensic psychologist since their actions assisted the courts decisions.

Thus, Haward defined forensic psychology as, “That branch of applied psychology which is concerned with the collection, examination and presentation of evidence for judicial purposes” (Haward 1981).

Another individual, Blackburn defined forensic psychology as, “The provision of psychological information for the purpose of facilitating a legal decision” (Blackburn 1996).

Although these definitions help define what a forensic psychologist is, others within the field simply define forensic psychology as any interaction a clinical psychologist has with the legal system. Thus, forensic psychology can either facilitate the decisions of our legal system, or they can assist after decisions have been made, e.g., working with a child who by court ruling has been removed from their home, or a criminal who has been convicted and is required to visit a clinical psychologist on a scheduled time plan each week or each month to assess the persons cognitive and emotional state.

As you research, these two ideas should provide you with enough information regarding the possible duties of a forensic psychologist.

Is Forensic Psychology Right for You?

The first aspect in determining whether or not you would pursue a forensic psychology career, would be honestly asking yourself if you like working with other people. In this career these individuals work closely with groups, one-on-one contact, possible court appearances, etc… If you enjoy working with people then you have a good possibility of enjoying this career.

Once determined you like working with people, the second aspect is obtaining a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. Once this is obtained, a clinical psychologist will then seek specialized training in the realm of forensics. Although, some programs are now providing this specialized training while earning their doctorate, but the number of schools that offer this option are small.

While earning your doctorate program, individuals who are pursuing this career choice, as provided by Karen Franklin (a forensic psychologist) will need to focus their learning on:

  • Having solid training and experiences within clinical psychology
  • Firm foundation in scientific theory and empirical research
  • Obviously analytical and critical thinking
  • Since you are working with the law, then you need legal knowledge
  • Effective and excellent writing skills
  • Efficient public speaking skills

A third aspect, students should be looking for internships to enhance their experience and competence within this subdiscipline of psychology. These internships may be offered at forensic hospitals, correctional facilities, or any community health setting.

The best internship obviously would be working side-by-side with a forensic psychologist. If this is possible in your area, then research it out, discover the options and put your shoulder to the boulder… and push.

Finally, it appears a number of forensic psychologist are mentioning for students and trainees to begin reading “Psychological Evaluation for the Courts”, a book published by Gary B. Melton PhD, John Petrila JD LLM, and Christopher Slobogin JD LLM. This book provides information and experiences regarding: mental health and legal professionals, best practice guidelines, and a comprehensive discussion of legal and clinical contexts.

Once you have decided your course of action, then your success will be found through your personal resolve and your willingness to extend yourself as fulfill the requirements to become a forensic psychologist.

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  1. All-About-Forensic-Psychology.Com. What is Forensic Psychology? Reviewed January 30, 2013.
  2. Psychology Today. What’s it take to become a forensic psychologist . Copyright 1991 – 2013, Sussex Publishers, LLC.