Bachelor's-level students learn about the fundamentals of the criminal justice system. They also explore the motivations behind various crimes. Internships may allow for a hands-on approach to learning. At the master's level, emphasis is placed on research methods and clinical assessments. Students could participate in practicums and field work experiences. Doctoral programs allow learners to conduct original research and to gain clinical expertise in forensic environments. Each program level has its own specific admissions requirements.
Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology involves the study of the criminal justice system and psychology, as well as a study of deviant behavior commonly employed by criminal behavior analysts. Common undergraduate degree programs in this area include the Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology and Bachelor of Criminal Justice in Forensic Psychology programs. Aspiring criminal behavior analysts may also consider a major in psychology, forensic science, criminology or criminal justice.
To supplement their training in behavior analysis, some programs offer internship opportunities with organizations like law enforcement agencies, probation offices, and juvenile assessment centers. Common courses in these programs include:
- Abnormal, social, and criminal behavior psychology
- Deviant behavior
- Juvenile delinquency
- Research methods
- Psychology and law
Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
Students enrolled in a Masters of Arts (M.A.) program in Forensic Psychology study the motivations of deviant behavior and how to distinguish between various types of criminal behavior. They learn to analyze issues within the justice system using the theories and methods of social psychology, neuropsychology, abnormal psychology and developmental psychology. Most programs require students to complete internships or clinical practicums in institutions like prisons, hospitals, mental health institutions and law enforcement agencies. Applicants to these programs must have completed prior work experience and undergraduate coursework in psychology and statistics.
Common master's-level topics include:
- Research methods
- Developmental psychopathology
- Adult psychopathology
- Psychology of criminal behavior
- Clinical assessment
Doctoral Degrees in Forensic Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs with a focus on forensic psychology train students to become clinical psychologists. Courses and internships emphasize forensic psychology through academic and experimental research. Doctoral students get experience in the clinical practice of psychology through internships or clinical practicums in correctional facilities and law clinics. Some clinical psychology programs offer minors in forensic psychology, which require completion of a sequence of elective courses. Some schools offer combined clinical psychology and law doctoral programs resulting in a combined Ph.D./J.D. To apply to these programs, students must have either a bachelor's or master's degree in a related field. Courses outside the clinic and lab include:
- Forensic evaluation
- Ethics and legality in psychology
- Research design and statistical analysis of data
- History of psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Police psychology
Popular Career Options
Bachelor's degree holders can find related entry-level positions as probation officers, parole officers, local law enforcement officers, and victim advocates. Advanced degrees are required for FBI behavioral analysts, behavior analysis researchers, trial consultants, police psychologists, and counselors.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that psychologists will experience 19% employment growth between the years 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned a median annual salary of $70,580 as of May 2015.
Graduates of bachelor's programs opting for careers in law enforcement and corrections usually receive job specific training after being hired. Corrections officers may improve their chances for advancement by pursuing a master's degree in criminal justice, psychology or social work. Graduates planning to research criminal behavior or aid law enforcement agencies as crime profilers or legal consultants should choose a postgraduate forensic psychology program that focuses on the actual practice of clinical psychology, particularly within forensic populations.
Doctoral students can increase their knowledge in behavior analysis by getting a post-doctorate certificate in a specific sub-specialty of forensic psychology like counseling and psychotherapy, psychological assessment or research. Students can also apply for postdoctoral fellowships at various mental health institutions, hospitals and medical schools.
The FBI offers volunteer internship positions at the Behavioral Science Unit to students of criminology, forensic science, psychology and related sciences interested in gaining real world experience analyzing violent crimes, terrorism and related areas.
Criminal behavior analysis, or 'forensic psychology' as it is more commonly referred to, combines an understanding of the criminal justice system with an in-depth study of the mind-set and motivation of violent criminals. Typically, a master's or doctoral degree is preferred due to the competitiveness in this field.