Forensic Psychology deals with the interface between psychology and the law (including both the civil and criminal justice systems). Forensic psychologists may have either clinical or non-clinical training and engage in a wide variety of activities, each of which blends psychology and the law in some way. This article describes a few of the career options available in the field of forensic psychology.
Education & Training
Relatively few academic institutions offer degrees specifically focused on Forensic Psychology; thus, individuals interested in pursuing a career in Forensic Psychology should take an academic course load centered on psychology classes and criminal justice or law classes.
Most jurisdictions require a doctoral degree to practice psychology and forensic psychology is no exception. Individuals with Masters degrees or Bachelors degrees are able to establish careers in the field of forensic psychology but typically function as support personnel or members of an interdisciplinary team where they are supervised by a doctoral-level professional.
Individuals with Masters degrees in clinical psychology typically work in institutions, such as correctional facilities, state forensic hospitals, probation clinics, or other forensic facilities where they are supervised by doctoral-level clinical forensic psychologists. Individuals with non-clinical Masters degrees, such as those who concentrate in cognitive, social, or developmental psychology, typically have a variety of career opportunities open to them but they are not able to work directly with patients/clients.
Growth in Forensic Psychology
Over the last 30 years, the field of forensic psychology has maintained a steady growth rate, which is expected to continue over the next 10 or more years. Graduates from doctoral programs in forensic psychology (or those that have concentrations or specializations in forensic psychology) find jobs in the field upon graduation and have many options available to them. Over the next decade, it is expected consultation, research, and clinical practice opportunities for forensic psychologists will continue to increase.
Career Opportunities in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychologists work at the intersection of psychology and the legal system. There are numerous career opportunities available in the field of forensic psychology. The following are brief descriptions of a diverse array of 10 of the many career opportunities available.
As in any field, there is the opportunity to become involved in administrative positions in forensic psychology. Clinical directors, managers, and program directors perform administrative tasks and duties to assist agencies in running smoothly and effectively. This type of career typically involves duties such as program coordination, coordination of staff, training, and fiscal considerations, staff supervision, and quality assurance. Many administrative positions are found in correctional settings, mental health court settings, juvenile court divisions, government agencies and not-for-profit organizations.
Individuals with Bachelors and Masters degrees are often employed as case managers who provide case management services for clients living in residential treatment facilities or in the community who require supervision or continued contact with a counselor. Case managers may be involved in teaching conflict resolution and problem-solving skills, assessing a client’s living skills to determine they type of support required for them to live successfully in their communities, and providing ongoing counseling and support for their clients.
Many forensic psychologists are clinicians who are involved in the assessment and treatment of various individuals involved with the civil or criminal justice systems. Clinical services that are provided by these professional include family assessment, reunification or stabilization; substance use treatment service; therapeutic services for various types of offenders, such as sex offenders or high-risk offenders; crisis intervention; domestic violence intervention; vocational assessment; and mental health intervention. Clinicians may be employed by various agencies or may practice independently.
Correctional psychologists are those who work in the correctional system. Typically these individuals work closely with offenders who are undergoing periods of custody and confinement, providing treatment or assessment of these individuals. With the continued growth of the jail and prison populations, there remains an increasing need for correctional psychologists.
Jury & Trial Consultant
Jury and trial consultants are involved in consulting with legal professionals about strategic and jury-selection decisions and responsibilities. These individuals may construct questionnaires, review case materials, coordinate the recruitment of mock jurors, conduct research with mock jurors or using survey techniques, facilitate focus-group panels, and develop analytical graphics.
Juvenile Service Provider
There is an increasing need for individuals who work with juvenile offenders. Forensic psychological professionals who work with juveniles may work in residential facilities where juvenile offenders are evaluated and treated, they may work as liaisons to juvenile courts, or they may work in any of a variety of evaluation or treatment settings. Juvenile service providers may have the opportunity to provide therapy to juveniles (and their families) including, conflict resolution, anger management, abuse victims counseling, substance-abuse treatment and relapse prevention, and life-skills training.
Police psychologists work in collaboration with a police force or as a part-time consultant to police or other law enforcement agencies. These individuals are sometimes involved in the screening and selection processes for police officers and may assist law enforcement personnel in various aspects of performing their duties. Police psychologists are frequently trained in crisis intervention and may also have specialized training in hostage negotiation. Police psychologists are often involved in research and development of police training programs, stress management, personnel management, and referral of departmental personnel as well as their families for specialized treatment and counseling.
A forensic psychologist may select a career path where he or she focuses almost exclusively on research. These individuals may be employed in academic, government, or not-for-profit settings. Some forensic psychology researchers devote themselves to developing and examining the utility of forensic assessment instruments used in a variety of settings; others devote themselves to developing and studying intervention programs. Non-clinical forensic psychologists typically are involved in studying various types of interactions with the legal system, such as jury or legal decision-making, and eyewitness behavior.
Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse services provided by forensic psychologists may be provided on both an inpatient or outpatient basis. Substance abuse services include treatment in a variety of correctional settings, special recovery homes, or transitional living programs. Forensic psychologists involved in substance abuse counseling services may also be involved in crisis intervention, prevention education, evaluation and assessment. These individuals typically work with offenders while they are incarcerated or as they are transitioning from custody into the community to provide rehabilitation services, including vocational development and life skills training.
Victim advocates are involved in providing accessible, confidential support and advocacy to victims/survivors, as well as their friends, partners, and families. Victim advocates help provide and develop education and prevention strategies, safety planning, crisis intervention and shelter referral, as well as assist victims with exams, accompany victims through court procedures, and promote social change.
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