Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Forensic Psychologists

Forensic Psychologist EmploymentAs cases regarding school violence, workplace conflict, sexual abuse, and other serious crimes in the United States continue to emerge, the escalating awareness of mental health issues and criminal behavior creates a demand for the services and expertise of forensic psychologists.

What Type of Positions Can a Forensic Psychologist Hold?

Companies and agencies that seek to hire forensic psychologists are those that have legal roles or clientele, which includes anyone associated with family, civil, or criminal court. Forensic psychology graduates may follow a range of diverse career paths, including positions in consulting, private practice, government, education, and in the courtroom. Learn more about how to become a forensic psychologist.

Career options available to forensic psychologists include:

  • Becoming a criminal profiler, and working with a local police department or federal law enforcement agency.
  • Developing a curriculum for and training law enforcement/corrections agencies, as a consultant.
  • Counseling at-risk youth for an agency that focuses on the prevention of criminal behavior.
  • Striving to improve public policy as a political advisor to government agencies and/or politicians on issues relating to crime and criminal law.
  • Becoming a non-profit lobbyist for changes to criminal law and crime prevention methods.
  • Conducting research at an institution or university on topics related to the legal system.
  • Providing counseling and treatment to criminals at prisons, halfway houses, mental health centers, and/or psychiatric hospitals.
  • Becoming a professor for an undergraduate or graduate program, as well as teach juris doctorate candidates at law schools.

The type of degree a forensic psychology graduate possesses will determine some of the positions he or she qualifies for.

"At the master's level, they can work in criminal justice settings like probation or parole, work as therapists in mental health or drug courts and work in correctional facilities as therapists or case managers. At the doctoral level, they can work as forensic psychologists in state mental hospitals, complete competency evaluations for the courts, complete psychological evaluations for legal cases, complete custody evaluations, and work in correctional facilities as psychologists or administrators."

Dr. David Stephens

Featured Forensic Psychologist Degree Program

Forensic psychologists also find employment within a:

  • Courtroom Setting: Because forensic psychologists possess valuable insight into human behavior and the criminal mind, they often play an important role in courtroom settings, such as testifying in court. Lawyers also use their specialties during the jury selection process because of their ability to 'read' people through their actions and body language.
  • Law Enforcement Setting: In addition to becoming a criminal profiler, forensic psychologists also work with law enforcement to select, train and evaluate police officers. They may work for an agency, or provide their services as a consultant hired on a temporary basis.
  • Government Agency Setting: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is an option for forensic psychologists, who are hired to create basic working profiles of killers and other criminals by analyzing their previous activity.
  • Crime Scene & Laboratory Setting: Some forensic psychologists play an important role in criminal investigations, and spend their time analyzing crime scenes and evidence to conclude a criminal's actions, and/or how they committed a crime. They often rotate between working in a laboratory, crime scene, and courtroom setting.
  • Child Law Setting: Forensic psychologists may opt to focus on child law, and investigate reports of child abuse. Oftentimes, their abilities are called upon to work on child custody cases, where they interview parents and the child(ren) on a separate basis to help determine the best overall custody decision.
  • Mental Health Setting: Those who enter the clinical forensic psychology field, often work with patients suffering from a mental disease that significantly affects their behavior. In addition to working with the court system, these professionals often assume position at prisons and mental institutions (especially those that have a criminal ward). When working at a rehabilitation center, forensic psychologists evaluate and create treatment plans for convicted criminals.
  • Education Setting: Forensic psychologists are hired to educate children and adults on the possible dangers regarding sexual abuse, domestic violence, and other threats to their health and wellbeing.

Dr. O'Leary suggests focusing on the job settings that are most enjoyable to a forensic psychology student or graduate, as a way to easily build upon his or her marketability.

"…if one's passion is working with victims of crimes, then they [should] look for advocacy centers, legal aid, department of social services, etc. This is more beneficial if one uses this approach while still attending school as it positions them for available positions once they graduate."

–Dr. Bill O'Leary

Ways for Forensic Psychologists to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate

Forensic psychologists can enhance their attractiveness as a job candidate through their volunteer efforts; by joining and being involved in professional organizations; by presenting papers at professional conferences; and being published in a professional journal.

Dr. O'Leary suggests taking an open-minded approach towards a forensic psychology career in order to create a broader range of opportunities as a professional, which can ultimately increase a job candidate's desirability to potential employers.

"I have done anger management for the NY Giants, gone to schools to present to students and parents, worked with victims as well as perpetrators, taught for several universities…"

–Dr. Bill O'Leary 

"Get a variety of professional experiences in forensic settings. For students, this can be accomplished through completing practicum experiences in …probation or parole, correctional facilities, state hospitals, etc."

–Dr. David Stephens

Dr. O'Leary also gives the following suggestions on how to become a better-rounded job candidate:

  • Develop and maintain professional relationships.
  • Conduct yourself in a genuine and direct manner.
  • Use logic instead of emotion when dealing with others.
  • Stay informed in the area that you work.

Qualities and characteristics that employers typically look for in a forensic psychologist include:

  • An understanding and familiarity about the intersection of law and psychology
  • Demonstrating a life-long learning attitude
  • A strong work ethic
  • The ability to keep personal opinions and biases out of their work
  • Strong critical-thinking skills, and the desire to 'go the extra mile' to research possible solutions
  • Willingness to accept viewpoints from many different people and other professionals
  • Staying well-informed on ever-changing social issues
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • The ability to effectively explain and defend a position or theory numerous times

"Degrees get you into the interview; experience and character get you the job."

Dr. Bill O'Leary

Forensic Psychology SalariesWays for a Forensic Psychologist to Increase His/Her Salary

Forensic psychologists with a doctoral-level degree (PhD or PsyD) are qualified to offer part-time and full-time private practice or consulting services as a way to increase their income. The average hourly rate for services is between $150 and $450 an hour, and may consist of performing psychological evaluations; competency evaluations; as well as evaluating people involved in personal injury or class-action suits (and then give testimony in court about the harm their clients have experienced).

"Depending on the setting, most salary increases occur through annual performance reviews. Increasing the quality of work, being involved in extra duties or projects at the place of employment, and being promoted all contribute to increasing salary."

–Dr. David Stephens

"…one can take the collegiate route and teach at a college. I tend to do that as a supplement to income as opposed to a main source."

–Dr. Bill O'Leary

Read more about forensic psychology degrees online.

Forensic Psychology Networking Opportunities and Organizations

Forensic psychologists have the option to effectively network both online and onsite, especially when working with law enforcement or judicial agencies. Dr. O'Leary says going to law enforcement settings and 'case-conferencing' over lunch is a good way to network in the field – this type of interaction "helps streamline investigations and catch problems earlier on".

Another type of conference for forensic psychologists to participate in is the kind that takes place regionally, nationally and internationally, which creates opportunities to meet with academics, researchers, practitioners and students of psychology.

Attending a conference, such as the Forensic Expert Witness Annual Conference & Symposium, provides a means to engage with high-profile keynote speakers, participate in workshops, speak on individual papers, and enjoy social activities with other psychologists.

Joining a regional board helps forensic psychologists develop relationships throughout the state, and provides an excellent way to stay informed in the field. According to Dr. O'Leary, boards usually include established professionals, and provide an invaluable source to be able to talk about cases and practice.

"Attending and/or presenting at conferences, and joining professional listservs are among the best ways to network with colleagues."

–Dr. David Stephens

Organizations that provide networking opportunities for forensic psychologists include:

  • American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP)
  • American Academy of Forensic Psychology
  • Society for Police and Criminal Psychology
  • National Organization of Forensic Social Work
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Forensic Expert Witness Association (FEWA)

Forensic Psychologist Continuing Education (CE) Sources

In addition to state-approved continuing education (CE) programs for psychologists, the APA also provides CE credit options for forensic psychologists. Opportunities for professional development include earning credits in topics related to forensic psychology, such as Forensic Assessment and the Standard of Care; Human Aggression and Violence: Causes, Manifestations, and Consequences; and Therapy with Coerced and Reluctant Clients.