Forensic Psychology: The Degree, Pros, Cons and Job Outlook

6 mins read

Thanks in part to film and television, the field of forensic psychology has exploded in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the sensationalized portrayal of vigilant investigators has somewhat overshadowed the hard work and dedication that’s required to be successful in this challenging field. In reality, the field of forensic psychology is based on applying the principles of psychology to the legal system, but the real work begins in the classroom. If you have a passion for helping others, here are a few points to consider before seeking a career in this field, including why earning your master’s degree is the best option.

What Exactly is Forensic Psychology?

In a nutshell, a forensic psychologist studies the actions, motives and behaviors of criminals, and applies this knowledge to the justice system. The definition of this profession might be simple, but the job description is more complicated. Depending on their employer, a forensic psychologist might work to profile criminals, perform court-ordered psychological evaluations, advocate for a prison inmate, oversee group therapy sessions or provide a number of other healthcare services for inmates. As a forensic psychologist, you might determine an individual’s competency to stand trial, study a crime scene to determine a motive or work with inmates at a state’s correctional facility.

Potential Career Paths

A forensic psychologist’s duties and job description is vast, and so are the number of potential employers. Here is a short list of the many employers and fields that require the services of forensic psychologists:

  • Police departments
  • Law firms
  • Rehabilitation center
  • Correctional facilities
  • Government agencies
  • Universities

Many forensic psychologists also work as family therapists, criminal psychologists, medical evaluators, counseling psychologists, developmental psychologists and even lawyers.

How Much Will I Earn as a Forensic Psychologist?

The average or starting salary for a forensic psychologist will vary depending on the employer, industry or the individual’s educational background. Many employers require candidates possess a doctoral degree for entry-level positions. In those instances, the average annual starting salary is $60,000 to $70,000. For individuals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, the average starting salary is around $35,000 to $40,000 per year. Many positions in governmental agencies don’t require a doctoral degree and there are opportunities for individuals with a master’s degree to start a private practice.

The Ups and Downs of the Profession

The potential to earn an impressive salary and the opportunity to make a real difference are just two of the benefits of working in forensic psychology, but there are many more, including:

  • Diversity – No other profession allows individuals to work for such a diverse number of employers. You might find yourself working in the court system one year, and then as a victim’s advocate or criminal profiler the next.
  • The Challenge – Forensic psychology is a fascinating as well as challenging field of study.
  • Competition – Because forensic psychology is so mentally demanding and requires extensive study and education, there is little competition in the field.
  • Growth – The demand for well-educated forensic psychologists is on the rise and is expected to grow in the future.

For all the benefits, there are a few more points to consider before seeking employment in this challenging field:

  • Educational Requirements – Once again, many employers require potential candidates possess a doctoral degree, which can take several years to complete.
  • Stress – Although it’s endlessly fascinating, forensic psychology is also an extremely stressful career path. Long work hours and challenging cases can often lead to burnout.
  • Earning Potential – It’s possible to earn a healthy salary working in this field, but that’s only after years of schooling and paying your dues.

Is Forensic Psychology the Best Career Path for Me?

Before entering this challenging, exciting and sometimes exhausting field, it’s important to ask yourself if you have what it takes to succeed. Beyond the love of working with others and a passion for the law, there are three attributes that every successful forensic psychologist should possess: creativity, persistence and a keen ability to think quickly.

The field of forensic psychology has been glamorized, misrepresented and generally taken out of context. If you’re not sure that this career path is your best option, don’t hesitate to pick the brain of an experienced and successful professional to help you in making your decision.

About the Author: Carrie Hamilton is a guest blogger and graduate student. She’s currently earning her industrial organizational psychology degree and hopes to find a career with a large corporation after graduation.