Doctorate in Forensic Psychology: PhD Degree Program Information

Jan 16, 2020

Forensic psychology combines psychotherapy and psychological assessment with criminal investigation to help solve crimes and provide services to offenders and crime victims. Several schools offer PhD programs in forensic psychology or clinical psychology with a forensic track.

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  • 0:03 Essential Information
  • 1:00 Doctorates in Forensic…
  • 1:49 Popular Career Options
  • 2:19 Licensure and…
  • 2:57 Employment Outlook and Salary

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Essential Information

Program Levels Doctor of Philosophy; Doctor of Psychology
Field(s) of Study Forensic psychology
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in psychology, criminal justice, sociology, or a related subject
Program Length 2-5 years
Licensure/Certification State licensure required for those providing services to the public; voluntary certification available
Key Skills Strong analytical skills; good oral and written communication
Sample Career Options Clinical psychologist, forensic psychologist, law enforcement or court consultant, forensic psychology researcher
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 15% growth (for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)
Median Annual Salary (2019)** $66,821

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

At the doctoral level, students can enroll in Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Psychology programs specifically in forensic psychology or with forensic psychology degree tracks. Some Ph.D. programs in forensic psychology can qualify graduates for licensure as clinical psychologists, though some will not. For those that don't, graduates can pursue careers in research or forensic consulting for legal, political, law enforcement, or educational organizations.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) programs are often intended for those interested in licensure as clinical psychologists, and some programs also include forensic psychology courses or concentrations. Programs can take two to five years and typically combine coursework and a dissertation and may include teaching assistantships or one or more clinical practicums. Prerequisites include a bachelor's degree in psychology, criminal justice, sociology, or a related subject.

Doctorates in Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology students at the doctoral level need to have strong analytical skills and be good oral and written communicators. Many programs look for applicants who've completed undergraduate or graduate courses in several psychology courses, such as psychopathology and psychology ethics.

The curricula for forensic psychology Ph.D. degree programs emphasize advanced psychology topics along with legal and law enforcement procedures. Students learn the theoretical aspects of the field as well as the real-world applications. Psy.D. programs require significant practical work, along with course work in psychology related to the law. Course topics common to both degree types include police psychology, criminal behavior, forensic psychology treatments, and mental health law.

Popular Career Options

Earning a doctoral degree in forensic psychology prepares graduates for careers working in corrections, the justice system, or the private sector. In order to work as a licensed clinical psychologist, specific education requirements need to be met, which Ph.D. programs may not qualify, though Psy.D. programs normally do. Occupations for Ph.D. and Psy.D. degree holders include clinical psychologist, forensic psychologist, law enforcement or court consultant, and forensic psychology researcher.

Licensure and Continuing Education

Any psychologist who provides counseling services is required to earn a state license. State licensure standards typically include holding a doctorate and completing necessary coursework and a minimum number of experiential hours. Many states also ask that psychologists complete continuing education every few years to keep licensure updated.

Though not required, the American Board of Professional Psychology offers a specialty board certification for forensic psychologists. A doctorate, licensure, 100 hours of forensic psychology education, and 1,000 hours of related experience are required to sit for the board certification exam.

Employment Outlook and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment, there is no projection for forensic psychologists specifically, but there is an expected 15% job growth expected for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists from 2018 through 2028. In December 2019, reported that the median salary for forensic psychologists was $66,821.

Both Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs are available for those interested in forensic psychology, though the Ph.D. is generally focused on research or consulting while a Psy.D. more commonly prepares for licensure and counseling.

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