An Overview of Forensic Psychology

Overview: What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?

An Overview of Forensic Psychology

In these types of evaluations, forensic psychologists assess a defendant’s current mental state (at the time of the evaluation) and determine whether or not they are mentally competent to continue with their criminal proceedings.

In addition, the individual must understand the charges against them, the roles of members in the court (judge, jury, prosecutor, defense attorney, and bailiff, etc.), and have the ability to work with their attorneys.

Specifically, in California, under Penal Code (PC) 1367(a), a defendant is mentally incompetent, if due to a mental disorder, he/she does not (1) understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or (2) assist counsel in the conduct of a defense in a rational manner.

Forensic psychologists either complete these evaluations with defendants in custody at a correctional facility or out-of-custody defendants in a private office setting.

Is the person suited for employment in public safety?

Forensic psychologists can conduct pre-employment psychological evaluations for public safety applicants (firefighter, police officer, highway patrol, dispatch, etc.

) to determine if the applicant is psychologically capable of handling the pressures, stressors, and job demands in the occupation.

These evaluations are typically part of the hiring process to ensure that applicants who are at risk of succumbing to pressures/stressors of the job are screened out.

Was the person legally insane at the time of the crime?

In insanity defense cases, forensic psychologists determine the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged offense. This requires the forensic psychologist to assess the defendant’s mental status retrospectively and not their current mental status at the time of the evaluation.

There are no psychological tests that can reliably identify a defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense. Still, forensic psychologists can use testing to help identify long-term psychological conditions that may be relevant to the legal situation.

These evaluations can help a forensic psychologist determine whether or not a defendant:

  1. Understands the nature and quality of his/her act
  2. Is able to distinguish between right or wrong

What is in the best interest of the child?

Child custody evaluation requests typically come from the court or from attorneys representing one of the parents in a divorce proceeding.

For example, in a custody psychological evaluation, a forensic psychologist will obtain and analyze the custodial needs of children involved, strengths and weaknesses of both parents as it pertains to the custody of the children, potential alienation of children from either parent, parental behaviors that may be detrimental to the children, etc. The summary of findings addressing these issues will be included in a report and submitted to the court.

Does the person have a mental health diagnosis?

Forensic psychologists conduct comprehensive evaluations, including reviewing mental health treatment history, identifying current mental health symptoms, collateral information, and psychological testing. They will then formulate a psychiatric diagnosis if any, as well as make treatment recommendations as needed.

Is this person at risk for reoffending in the community?

In these evaluations, forensic psychologists use structured clinical assessments of violence risk as part of their evaluations to determine the future or ly risk of an individual. Risk assessments are used for civil commitment decisions in both civil and criminal litigations.

For example, in California, under The Offenders with Mental Health Disorders law, PC 2960-2981, an incarcerated individual can be paroled on the condition that he/she receives mental health treatment in the community.

A forensic psychologist conducts these evaluations and determines whether or not the individual can be safely and effectively treated on an outpatient basis throughout their time on parole.

The above list contains only some examples of referral questions that may be presented to a forensic psychologist.

In some cases, forensic psychologists may also work with and treat individuals who have been victims of crimes, such as child abuse cases and sexual assault victims.

Some forensic psychologists can also serve as consultants, depending on their specialization, credibility, and experience.

For more information, contact Vienna Psychological Group in Glendora at (626) 709-3494.


12 Career Paths with a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology

An Overview of Forensic Psychology

A forensic psychology degree can open the door to a wide variety of careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for psychologists are expected to grow by about 14 percent (much faster than average).

This includes specialized fields, forensic psychology.

Those seeking to enter or advance in this field may want to consider pursuing a master’s degree in forensic psychology, which integrates psychology with processes and procedures of the legal system.

The field of forensic psychology also offers a variety of career options—from consulting on public policy to working within the criminal justice system. While these are options that many may pursue, they’re not your only choice.

What does a forensic psychologist do?

Generally speaking, forensic psychology includes areas where psychology and the legal system connect. Many people believe they know exactly what a forensic psychologist does by watching their favorite crime shows.

While shows such as “Criminal Minds” portray forensic psychologists as action heroes, the truth is a forensic psychologist will probably spend more time studying criminals and their crimes to help law enforcement better understand patterns in behavior.

While there are many who work with law enforcement to profile criminals, forensic psychologists may also work in a variety of other areas.

For example, many forensic psychologists will work in the court system in order to help lawyers, judges, and juries better understand the motivations behind criminal behavior.

In fact, many choose this path to advocate on behalf of underserved populations, including African-Americans, Latina/Latinos, those from lower-economic areas, children, or those with mental illness.

There are many paths available for those seeking a career in forensic psychology. Continue reading to discover a few of our highlights.

1. Correctional Counselor

Those with a master’s degree in forensic psychology can seek employment in a correctional facility. Forensic psychologists can leverage their understanding of crime, punishment, and the legal and psychological ramifications of both to perform a variety of meaningful roles in the correctional system. This can include offering treatment and counseling for inmates and ex-convicts.

Additionally, forensic psychologists may assist in developing programs that help reduce recidivism rates. Correctional counselors provide mental health counseling and support to prison inmates and often conduct both individual and group sessions with inmates.

Their work might include:

  • Counseling sessions
  • Conducting psychological evaluations
  • Collaborating with caseworkers, lawyers, and other employees at the correctional facility

Correctional counselors can provide deeper insights into the state and well-being of inmates and give recommendations into parole hearings.

2. Jail Supervisor

Jail supervisors, also known as corrections supervisors, work in correctional facilities juvenile jails, state penitentiaries, and detention centers. Their work centers around keeping inmates and staff members safe. Responsibilities can include overseeing daily activities, alleviating conflict, and ensuring the prison is clear of contraband.

A successful jail supervisor has strong communication and conflict resolution skills. Since their job is to keep the peace, it’s important to understand each situation and deal with it patiently. That’s why a forensic psychology background can be so beneficial.

3. Victim Advocate

A victim advocate works directly with victims of crimes and survivors of traumatic events sexual assault or domestic violence. Advocate responsibilities often include helping the victim understand his or her case and legal rights, providing support through the legal process, and attending hearings with the victim.

It’s important to keep in mind that advocates are there to provide information, resources, and support to victims—but they do not tell victims what to do. Victim advocates can work for government organizations police stations or courts and for private organizations nonprofits or crisis centers.

4. Jury Consultant

Forensic psychologists are needed in a variety of applications in court systems, including evaluating witness testimony, selecting juries, providing consultations, and more.

For example, a jury consultant would work with lawyers to provide insights on which jurors to select for cases. As consultants, they do a lot of research into potential jurors and are heavily involved in the voir dire process.

Voir dire is when prospective jurors are questioned by both the prosecuting and defense attorneys.

Additionally, jury consultants take notes during the trial itself on juror body language and behavior. This information helps lawyers prep their strategies and coach witnesses.

Because forensic psychology combines psychological insights with the court system, a master’s degree in forensic psychology is a stepping stone toward this career path. Forensic psychology courses often include information on jury selection and courtroom dynamics.

5. Federal Government Employee

Individuals with forensic psychology degree backgrounds can be well-equipped and attractive job candidates for federal government organizations. This can include working at the I, DEA, CIA, VA hospitals, or other state and local government institutions.

Forensic psychology prepares people to think critically, combine interdisciplinary perspectives, and apply psychological perspectives to real-world situations. This type of education can set individuals up for success in jobs being an I special agent or a VA hospital worker.

These positions do not require licensure, but it often helps to receive a higher graduate-level degree to further your career in these organizations.

6. Police Consultant

While many forensic psychologists will work in the justice system, others will choose to work on the side of law enforcement as police consultants.

In many instances, police officers and detectives rely on forensic psychologists to help them understand the minds of criminals and to help them apprehend felons.

While television tends to bump up adrenaline for ratings, this is probably the most recognizable job for forensic psychologists because of shows “Law & Order” or “CSI.”

Police consultants help educate police officers on how to best approach their communities in order to promote community policing strategies, and how to best address interpersonal struggles or challenges within the department. Responsibilities can include:

  • Providing suicide prevention training
  • Anger management courses
  • Critical Incident Stress Debriefing training
  • Educating police officers on how to better handle situations involving the disabled and mentally ill

7. Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Forensic psychology graduates often work as counselors in a wide variety of industries. From addiction treatment facilities to domestic violence shelters to private practices, forensic psychology is a versatile field that can translate into many different types of counseling careers.

Of course, many counseling careers do require licensure. If you’re interested in becoming a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC, LPC, LCPC, etc), be sure to look for forensic psychology programs with a licensure track. This ensures that you’ll be well-equipped to take the necessary exams and apply for licensure.

8. Probation Officer

If you have an interest in working in the justice system but would to do so more peripherally, consider becoming a probation officer. Probation officers assist in supervising people who were recently released from the prison system and/or those placed on parole (parolees).

A master’s in forensic psychology will aid professionals in making decisions about release date determination, evaluating the lihood of risky behavior, and advising past offenders. With a degree that is invested in psychological wellness, those deciding to pursue a career as a probation officer can become important points of contact for those who need guidance as they strive to do better.

9. Crime Analyst

Crime analysts work closely with law enforcement agencies to sort crime profiles and detect criminals. They do this by collating and sampling data to control the occurrences of crime in a given location by providing statistical, strategic, and investigative support to the police force.

Crime analysts work with variables such as demographic, economic, and locational factors, which may differ the types of prevalent crimes and their frequency.

They use tactical methods, strategic findings, and administrative research as tools in implementing their work.

These methods may require specialized training and skills––by acquiring a degree in Forensic Psychology, you could gain detailed knowledge on how to examine statistical data, read and evaluating forensic research, and so on.

10. Forensic Research Psychologists

As a researcher, forensic psychology is key to examining many aspects of criminology.

Forensic Research Psychologists carry out their research in a variety of areas, including studying criminal history and questioning suspects, victims, and other people related to a crime.

They also study the situations surrounding a particular crime as well as the age group that is most related to that crime.

The researcher studies the crime scene and records the information (such as eye-witness accounts, patterns, and evaluation of offenders and victim treatment programs to name a few) that the other law and security personnel missed. Forensic psychologists employ the knowledge of the researcher in abnormal or difficult cases, and the researcher may also be in charge of collating data and cataloging it for forensic and criminal expert use.

11. Investigative Journalist

Those with a background in forensic psychology can use their specialized knowledge to work as a crime reporter or an investigative journalist. In these roles, you play a vital and often ignored role in criminal justice and criminology.

In many cases, investigations become overwhelming to law enforcement agents and detectives, and investigative journalists may step in to provide additional research and even data documentation for certain cases and crimes.

An investigative journalist works with law enforcement to collect and analyze the information that they receive through witnesses and informants, attend and address press conferences, interview victims, suspects and relatives of those who are involved in a case, and follow up on leads and tips that relate to a crime.

12. Forensic Social Worker

This role is a combined social work and criminal justice professional that works to navigate the consequences of crime for all parties involved. They work in association with traditional social workers and help those that the crime directly affects. They serve as a link between the court system, law enforcement agencies, and the affected individuals.

Their work functions include:

  • Recommending appropriate therapy and protection of criminal defendants and informants
  • Evaluating the defendant’s mental state
  • Testifying as expert witnesses
  • Identifying criminal activities within their clients

Forensic psychologists have a part in almost all aspects of society, and with the ever-increasing crime rate, their expertise is beneficial to all involved in the criminal justice system

How to become a forensic psychologist

There is no single way to become a forensic psychologist. Forensic psychology is a broad field that applies psychology to the legal system, so forensic psychology careers are diverse and ever-growing.

First, you can obtain a master’s or doctoral level degree in forensic psychology. There are licensure and non-licensure forensic psychology tracks. If you’re interested in becoming a licensed counselor, a high-level forensic psychologist, or a professor, you should pursue a doctoral degree.

As for licensure, the American Board of Professional Psychology has a Specialty Board Certification in Forensic Psychology. This is not a required credential to practice forensic psychology, but it proves that you have a high level of competency in the field.

If you’re interested in becoming a licensed counselor that focuses on dealing with criminal defendants, sex offenders, victims, and other legal arenas, you can become an LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor).

Read more about how to become a forensic psychologist here.

Degrees in Forensic Psychology

Whether you’re looking to become a victim advocate or a jury consultant, a forensic psychology degree is a great place to start. The Chicago School offers Forensic Psychology degree programs online and at campuses nationwide.

  • B.A. in Criminology, Forensic Psychology Specialization (Online)
  • M.A. in Forensic Psychology, Professional Counselor Licensure Track (Online, Chicago, Irvine, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.)
  • M.A. in Forensic Psychology, Professional Counselor Licensure Track, Police Psychology Concentration (Irvine, Los Angeles)
  • M.A. in Forensic Psychology, Non-Licensure Track (Online)
  • M.A. in Forensic Psychology, Non-Licensure Track to Licensure Bridge (Online, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.)
  • M.A. in Psychology, Forensic Psychology Concentration (Online)
  • Dual Degree: Forensic Psychology, Non-Licensure Track, and Master of Legal Studies (Online)

Learn more about forensic psychology careers and degree programs

If you would more information about pursuing a master’s degree in forensic psychology at The Chicago School, visit the Forensic Psychology program page or fill out the form below to request more information.


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