The answer to this question depends on the types of activities that you wish to engage in as a forensic psychologist. This article provides a brief overview of the ways in which forensic psychology differs from and overlaps with clinical psychology.
All forensic psychologists work at the interface of psychology and the law but this encompasses a wide array of activities and roles. In general, forensic psychology can be broken down into two broad areas—clinical forensic psychology and non-clinical forensic psychology (also called experimental forensic psychology or psychology and law).
Clinical Forensic Psychology
In general, a clinical forensic psychologist is a clinical psychologist who works at the interface of psychology and law. Clinical forensic psychologists must be licensed to practice clinical psychology and must have completed specialized education, training and experience in forensic psychology. While the licensing laws and requirements vary by state (in the USA) and province (in Canada), a doctoral degree in clinical psychology (either a PhD or a PsyD) is the most common educational requirement for licensure as a psychologist. In addition to the educational requirements, most states and provinces require a certain number of hours of professional experience to become licensed. In addition, some states and provinces require additional training of clinical psychologists to be able to engage in providing forensic psychological services.
Licensed clinical psychologists who specialize in forensic psychology engage in a wide variety of professional roles, including, but not limited to: conducting evaluations and assessments of individuals involved in the criminal and civil justice systems; providing intervention and treatment services for individuals involved in some aspect of the criminal or civil justice systems or for those within the correctional system; providing consultation regarding psychological aspects of legal issues; conducting research on issues related to psychology and law; developing policy on issues related to psychology and law; and testifying as an expert witness.
So, the answer to the question of whether one needs to become a clinical psychologist to be a clinical forensic psychologist is yes, but one does not necessarily have to become a clinical psychologist to be a forensic psychologist (keep reading).
Experimental Forensic Psychology
In general, experimental forensic psychologists are psychologists who work at the interface of psychology and law but who do not engage in direct delivery of psychological services to individuals or groups. Most states and provinces do not require experimental (or other non-clinical) forensic psychologists to become licensed since they do not work directly with patients or engage in providing clinical psychological services. Most experimental (or non-clinical) forensic psychologists obtain a PhD in either experimental or social psychology, although any area of specialization other than clinical would also be appropriate, and obtain specialized training in issues related to psychology and law.
Non-clinical forensic psychologists engage in a wide variety of professional roles, including, but not limited to: conducting research on issues related to psychology and law, such as jury and judicial decision-making, eyewitness testimony, eyewitness identification, interrogations, and confessions; providing expert testimony on issues related to psychology and law (such as those previously mentioned); engaging in trial and jury consultation services; and developing policy on issues related to psychology and law.
Thus, the answer to the question of whether one needs to become a clinical psychologist to be a forensic psychologist is no, unless you want to engage in direct delivery of psychological services (assessment, treatment, and consultation) to individuals or groups involved in the criminal and civil justice systems (in which case you would need to become a clinical psychologist).
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