Forensic psychologists use their training in psychology and science to resolve issues and answer questions within the legal system. Forensic psychologists give expert opinions in court as well as evaluate witnesses, defendants or plaintiffs prior to trials. They also work in correctional institutes, psychiatric facilities and government agencies.
Forensic psychologists usually follow one of three education paths:
Forensic psychologists with a more authoritative role in the legal system — such as those who give expert testimonies or evaluate the mental capacity of witnesses or defendants — will need a doctorate degree.
Positions with state facilities, community health centers, protective services and law enforcement will often only require a master’s degree. A master’s in forensic psychology can be completed in two years, while a doctorate degree takes five to seven years to finish. Many forensic psychologist positions also require certification by the American Board of Forensic Psychology.
Forensic psychologists apply psychology and science to a number of areas within the legal system. Advanced degrees and training prepare forensic psychologists to perform some of the following jobs in court and related areas:
There are many job opportunities on the perimeters of the legal system for forensic psychologists as well. Forensic psychologists can work at community-based agencies with individuals and groups “at risk” for entering the court system such as inner city children, substance abusers and victims of sexual or domestic abuse. Other forensic psychologists may take faculty positions at universities or go into private practice as a consultant or counselor.
Salaries for forensic psychologists vary depending on the type of degree, position and years of experience. According to payscale.com, the median salary for a forensic psychologist with one to four years of experience is $59,732 and $79,075 for one with 20 years. Positions with the government tend to pay well with a median salary of $63,938 for state and local government jobs and $52,654 for federal jobs. Positions with nonprofits are on the lower end of the pay scale with a median salary of $47,000.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, psychology jobs are expected to increase by 15 percent from 2006 to 2016. Opportunities will be best for those with a specialized advanced degree. The demand for forensic psychologists should rise as new psychology positions are created within the judicial system to address individual and societal issues.