As a specialty field, forensic psychology applies psychological principles to the legal realm. Forensic psychologists may act as expert witnesses in criminal and civil court cases, provide psychotherapy to crime victims or assess the competency of adult or juvenile offenders. Individuals interested in these careers should be objective and prepared for rigorous studies. An online degree in forensic psychology can be the first step toward working in this intriguing and engaging field.
How to become a forensic psychologist
Although there are online criminal justice degree programs in forensic psychology, only those with a doctoral degree can be certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) and receive a Diploma in Forensic Psychology. Beyond the doctoral degree, candidates for certification must also have five years of work experience or have completed a formal post-doctoral training program. Approved programs must be led by a qualified instructor and include 2,000 hours of training within a time period of nine to 24 months.
Both master's and doctoral degrees in forensic psychology may offer a curriculum that covers the following mental health and legal topics:
- Criminal behavior
- Interviewing and observational strategies
- Substance abuse therapies
- Mental health law
According to Psychology Today, forensic psychologists provide essential services in a variety of settings from the courtroom to the classroom. After certification, they may work in correctional facilities, attorneys' offices or academic settings. Other professionals may set up a private practice and provide consulting services.
Starting a career with online degrees in forensic psychology
Studying online can be a convenient way to earn a degree, but a career as a forensic psychologist generally requires completion of in-site requirements as well. Online bachelor's degrees in forensic psychology can lead to support services occupations in fields such as criminal justice, social services and gerontology. However, to work as a licensed psychologist, most states require individuals hold a minimum of a master's degree.
Someone with a master's degree in forensic psychology can be licensed as a psychologist, but receiving a Diploma in Forensic Psychology from the ABPP requires a doctoral degree as well as a post-doctoral training program. Although online degrees in forensic psychology can provide much of the instruction required at each degree level, students generally must also complete a practicum experience or internship before completing their studies.
Job outlook and income for forensic psychologists
For reporting purposes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes forensic psychologists under the broader psychology category. The bureau reports demand for psychologists from 2008-2018 is expected to be on par with the average job growth for all occupations during that period. Job growth is projected at 14 percent during the ten-year period, and the BLS says job prospects should be best for those with a doctoral degree in an applied specialty.
In 2010, BLS figures show psychologists in the same category as forensic psychologists earned mean annual wages of $86,510.
Forensic psychology at a glance
- Certification: According to the ABPP, the Diploma in Forensic Psychology is recognized as the standard for competency in forensic psychology.
- Salaries: Mean annual salaries for psychologists in applied specialties were $86,510 in 2010. The top 10 percent earned more than $119,940.
- Job prospects: Psychology Today reports professionals in forensic psychology work in jails, rehabilitation centers, police departments, schools, government agencies or private practice.