Clinical Forensic Psychology: Degree Program Options

Forensic psychology is the study of how psychological principles can be applied to issues faced by the criminal justice system and those involved in it. A bachelor's program gives students foundational knowledge of human behavior and its effects on communities and the legal system. Master's degree students learn to apply psychological theories and research findings to real world situations. Doctoral programs combine research and clinical practice.

Essential Information

A bachelor's degree in this field can prepare graduates for occupations such as probation counselor or court liaison. Master's degree programs prepare students to counsel juvenile offenders and develop community outreach programs.

All states require that psychologists be licensed. Licensure requirements vary but usually call for a doctoral degree and experience. There are also professional certifications available for forensic psychologists.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Master of Arts (M.A.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.).
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED (for bachelor's degree); bachelor's degree with psychology emphasis, GRE scores, recommendations (for master's degree); bachelor's degree, GRE scores, recommendations and possibly work experience in mental health (for doctorate).
  • Program Lengths: 4 years (bachelor's degree); 2 years (master's degree); 5 years (doctoral degree).
  • Other Requirements: Field work, internships, dissertation (doctoral programs).

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Forensic Psychology

Bachelor's degree programs in forensic psychology generally teach students to analyze human behavior via empirical research methods. Students learn about social, biological and cognitive aspects of human behavior, and how individual behavior impacts communities and the legal system. Programs may incorporate interdisciplinary courses in criminal justice connecting psychological principles to forensic applications. In bachelor's degree programs, coursework usually coalesces around core courses in abnormal, social and developmental psychology. Statistics is also generally required to enhance students' abilities to assess and evaluate. Elective courses cover topics such as:

  • Behavioral pharmacology
  • Corrections psychology
  • Psychotherapy techniques
  • Criminal psychology
  • Evidence and investigations
  • Psychology and the law

Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology

In master's degree programs in forensic psychology, students typically learn to apply psychological methods, theories and research to field work in courts and communities. Field work options may include counseling juveniles and their families, developing community programs and advocating public policy. Students will study interviewing, assessment and clinical treatment of offenders, victims and other parties involved in criminal cases. Students study approaches to psychotherapy and crisis intervention. Courses at this level analyze crime and criminals as well as cultural issues in forensic psychology. Most curricula further train students in statistics and methodological approaches to psychological research. Legal and ethical issues make up the remainder of the coursework. Possible topics include:

  • Assessing and treating juvenile offenders
  • Crisis intervention
  • Ethics in forensic psychology
  • Evaluating criminals
  • Family law
  • Forensic mediation

Doctoral Degree Programs in Forensic Psychology

Doctoral programs may offer the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. These degree tracks have similar curricula and requirements in research and internships. Forensic psychology is usually offered as a concentration within Psy.D. and Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology. Programs focusing on clinical forensic psychology involve students in the primary tasks performed by licensed forensic psychologists such as evaluating child custody cases, providing court testimony and assessing criminals. Students must complete general requirements in psychotherapy, psychological theory, diagnostic techniques and diversity training before completing their concentration requirements in areas such as forensic psychology. Topics specific to forensic psychology may include:

  • Adult forensic psychology
  • Child forensic psychology
  • Family treatments
  • Forensic assessment
  • Mental health law
  • Neuropsychological assessment

Popular Career Options

With a bachelor's degree, students may pursue careers in fields such as law enforcement or social work. Possible titles include:

  • Casework specialist
  • Correctional counselor
  • Court liaison
  • Probation counselor
  • Victim advocate

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The BLS lists forensic psychologists as a subset of general psychologists. The BLS goes on to state that all psychologists can expect to see 12% growth in total employment, or about as fast as the average for all professions, from 2012 to 2022. Psychologists with doctoral degrees and training in applied specialty areas are expected to have among the best opportunities for employment.

In May 2014, the BLS stated that the mean annual wage for all clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $74,030. At the time, the leading employers of these psychologists included schools and health practitioners.

Licensure and Certification Info

All clinical psychologists in the U.S. must be licensed by the state or territory in which they practice. Standards vary by state, but usually require psychologists to have a doctoral degree and professional experience and to have completed an internship. Written and oral examinations are also required by many states.

Certification in specific areas of psychology, including forensic psychology, is available through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Candidates for certification must have a doctoral degree, a state license and professional experience. The ABPP also requires candidates to pass its board examination.

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