How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Graduates of an accredited psychology degree program can become a forensic psychologist. These professionals apply the knowledge and practice of psychology to the legal system, helping police investigators, judges, and attorneys to better understand the psychological dimensions of criminal and other legal cases. Some responsibilities that may be undertaken by a forensic psychologist include the investigation of child abuse cases, the assessing of defendants’ mental competency, the evaluation of child custody cases, and even providing expert testimony in court.

What degree is required to become a forensic psychologist?

Those who are pursuing a forensic psychologist career will need to first obtain an undergraduate degree in psychology from an accredited college or university. In many cases, it is a good idea to pursue a double major in psychology and criminology at the undergraduate level. An individual will also need to obtain either a master’s degree or a doctorate in clinical psychology.

It is also necessary to earn state licensure in order to practice as a psychologist. The requirements for licensure differ from state to state. In addition, an individual can obtain board certification in forensic psychology through the American Board of Forensic Psychology, which is a member board of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). The ABPP offers certification exams that cover competency in a variety of areas, including assessment, intervention, consultation, and ethical issues.

How long does it take to become a forensic psychologist?

When contemplating the time factor to become a forensic psychologist, it is important to consider the educational and work-related requirements. In general, completing a doctoral degree in psychology can take between four and seven years. However, the precise time frame will really depend upon whether a student opts to attend their educational program on a full-time or a part-time basis. There may also be a time factor involved with the completion of the individual’s dissertation, as well as a period of time that must be spent fulfilling clinical and/or internship requirements.

For those students who may have work or family obligations while attending school, there are many online psychology programs that may help in fulfilling their degree requirements in a more convenient manner. These programs could help an individual to obtain their degree in psychology faster, as the time allotted for course work and study may be more flexible. The time that it takes one to become a forensic psychologist may also depend upon the individual’s specific industry-related licensing requirements.

What is a forensic psychologist’s salary?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the salaries of many forensic psychologists are similar to those of psychologists overall. The median annual wage for psychologists as a whole as of May 2010 was $68,000. However, this may vary by the individual’s actual work obligations as well as the demographic area in which they are employed. As of September 2012, a forensic psychologist earned between $35,097 and $93,146 per year, according to online compensation site With bonuses, some forensic psychologists can earn more than $120,000 per year. Some of the top industries where forensic psychologists are employed include police departments, clinical psychology practices, community mental health organizations, correctional facilities, and government agencies.