Forensic Psychologist

Popular television programs have dramatized the work of forensic psychologists in the recent years. Although these programs occasionally exaggerate the responsibilities of these professionals, people who study psychology and want to apply their expertise in the legal field should consider pursuing a career in forensic psychology. The duties of forensic psychologists are determined by the judicial process they specialize in.

Forensic psychologists utilize psychology to assist police officers investigating crimes. Additionally, they apply psychology to questions pertaining to the criminal justice system. For example, forensic psychologists interview criminals to decipher whether they're insane. They combine psychology with criminal justice. Forensic psychologists counsel mentally ill inmates, consult lawyers, and psychologically analyze criminals to determine motivations for criminal behavior.

Forensic psychology is a branch of forensic science that is growing rapidly. Forensic psychologists can pursue any of the following opportunities:

  • Administration
    Program directors, managers, and clinical directors serve in essential administrative roles ensuring organizations operate smoothly and efficiently. Specific duties include overseeing training programs and employees, program coordination, budget management, and quality assurance. Most forensic psychology administration positions are located in prisons, juvenile courts, and non-profit groups.

  • Case Management
    Forensic psychologists specializing in case management typically work at assisted living centers or other facilities where people benefit from regularly visiting with psychologists. Case managers show patients how to improve conflict-solution skills and evaluate them to determine the most beneficial types of support programs. Case management counselors help clients by offering continual counseling support to address relationship problems, living independently, and resolving substance abuse or depression problems.

  • Clinical/Counseling
    Forensic psychology clinical and counseling programs can differ significantly. Specialists in this field provide family counseling, in-home treatment, family and individual assessment, and outside support counseling services. Counselors utilize their clinical skills and knowledge to determine problems, evaluate patients, and propose practical treatments. Therapy programs are often used to treat substance abuse problems, rehabilitate sex offenders, and treat victims of sexual abuse. Counselors also provide counseling to victims of domestic violence, people looking for jobs, and individuals struggling with serious mental health disorders.

  • Correctional Officer
    Correctional officers perform routine duties, including supervising inmates, securing facilities, and performing administrative duties, while adhering to set policies and regulations. Prison inmates must be supervised when they eat, exercise, or complete work projects. Certain correctional officers are required to carry firearms, but most correctional officers are not armed or required to discipline inmates or break-up fights. Many correctional officers are trained to handle hostage situations, perform CPR, restrain inmates with force, and transport inmates to and from court.

  • Court Liaison
    Court liaisons are responsible for coordinating activities between law enforcement agencies and courts. Additionally, they're responsible for processing evidence and document requests and following-up when requested with State Attorney General's Offices. They also issue, file, and record subpoenas issued by State Attorney General's Offices and notify officers when they're summoned to testify. Court liaisons also instruct, supervise, and assist people testifying in court. They also ensure every document sent to courts from law enforcement agencies are reviewed for conciseness and errors.

  • Forensic Treatment
    Forensic treatment specialists counsel convicted criminals, recovering drug addicts, and sex offenders in various settings. They frequently assist inmates struggling with family problems and problems resulting from imprisonment. Counselors also organize and manage programs designed to decrease criminal recidivism rates. Dual diagnosis programs, (treatment programs where mental health and substance abuse issues are addressed), are frequently used when treating inmates.

  • Jury Consultation
    Jury consultants conduct jury research and perform other duties related to jury selection. Specific duties include developing jury questionnaires, examining case documents, organizing mock juries, writing reports containing their conclusions, organizing focus groups, and creating analytical graphics. Additionally, jury consultants have project management responsibilities, which include organizing research, selecting graphics, and overseeing graphics and research meetings.

  • Juvenile Offenders
    Forensic psychologists assist juvenile delinquents in various ways. Residential juvenile rehabilitation programs are available where juveniles are diagnosed, evaluated, and treated. Counselors frequently treat juveniles and their families at personal residences, community centers, and other settings. During therapy sessions, counselors teach juveniles and their families invaluable life lessons and stress coping techniques. Counselors provide patients the following therapeutic services: anger management, conflict resolution, substance abuse counseling and relapse prevention, abuse victims counseling and life-skills counseling. Juvenile rehabilitation programs often sponsor multi-disciplinary counseling, which means forensic counselors often work closely with movement, art, and music therapists. Forensic psychologists working exclusively with juvenile offenders have multiple opportunities to serve as court liaisons within the juvenile justice system.

  • Law Enforcement
    Some law enforcement psychologists consult police departments, while others work directly for them. Police officers frequently call upon law enforcement psychologists to assist them. These specialists frequently respond to major crises, including suicide threats, hostage situations, and other traumatic events. Law enforcement psychologists also research and create law enforcement training and stress management programs. They also identify and refer police officers struggling to cope with trauma to appropriate counseling specialists.

  • Probation/Parole/Supervised Release/Transitional
    Individuals specializing in these fields typically assist inmates preparing to leave prison, with the focus on recidivism reduction. These counselors assist people concerned about child support, parenting, vocational training, and other issues. Counselors also teach clients important life skills, refer them to available resources, and show them how to live independently.

  • Research
    Career opportunities exist for forensic psychologists only interested in research, which could include research intended to enhance criminal investigations. Many forensic psychology researchers specialize in developing tests intended to improve criminal assessment and better determine insanity. Researchers also analyze treatments used to treat convicted criminals to determine whether they're effective or not. For example, researchers frequently evaluate sex offender rehabilitation programs since sex offenders have a high recidivism rate. Other researchers focus on the effects of abuse and factors contributing to criminal delinquency and violent behavior.

  • Sex Offenders
    Forensic psychologists who counsel sex offenders conduct evaluations, administer individual and group therapy, and make preparations for inmate release. Other duties include conducting thorough interviews and assessments with sex offenders and their families. Since sex offenders have high recidivism rates, counselors focus on proven rehabilitation methods to reduce recidivism.

  • Substance Abuse
    Forensic psychologists specializing in substance abuse recovery work at outpatient and inpatient clinics. Substance abuse treatment is also provided in correctional facilities, assisted living facilities, and transitional living centers, such as halfway houses, the Salvation Army, and Safer Foundation. Forensic psychologists trained in substance abuse recovery can participate in interventions, teach classes about prevention, and counsel addicts struggling with sobriety. These specialists primarily focus on rehabilitating incarcerated addicts, so they can live productive lives upon release. During rehabilitation counseling, substance abuse forensic psychologists provide life and vocational training, and after inmates are released, they continue working with them to decrease the chances of relapse.

  • Victim Advocacy
    Victim advocates counsel abuse victims and their family members, providing it confidentially since many victims are afraid to discuss their abuse in fear of reprisal. They also ensure their services are accessible. These specialists design prevention and education programs and lobby elected officials on behalf of abuse victims. Likewise, victim advocates offer safety planning, refer victims to shelters, participate in crisis intervention, help victims fill out legal papers, and accompany abuse victims to court.

Aspiring forensic psychologists should complete numerous psychology and criminal justice courses while studying as undergraduates since few schools offer degree programs in forensic science. Recommended courses include cognitive, clinical, social, developmental, and criminal investigative psychology.

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Forensic psychologists often specialize in research. Some research conducted by forensic psychologists improves interrogation techniques, while other research focuses on public policy and improving criminal rehabilitation and the design of correctional facilities. Forensic psychologists typically devote their careers to teaching, corrections, or law enforcement.

Before applying for professional licensure, forensic psychologists are required to obtain a PhD. Those interested in forensic psychology careers should complete courses in abnormal psychology, criminology, social psychology, statistics and criminal law. Since forensic psychologists specialize in motivation, everyone interested in this field should take a motivational psychology class. Aspiring forensic psychologists are encouraged to obtain a bachelor's of science degree. Those holding master's degree in clinical psychology typically work under the direction of a psychologist with a doctorate degree. Because forensic psychologists holding master's degrees typically make less money than their colleagues with PhDs, they often work at prisons and other correctional facilities. Forensic psychologists with master's degrees in social, cognitive, or developmental psychology typically have better job opportunities than those with degrees in clinical fields since they can assess inmates.

Job growth in the field of forensic psychology has remained steady for 20 years. It's projected that during the next decade demand for forensic psychologists specializing in research, clinical practice, and consultation will increase. Job growth for forensic psychologists consulting with elected officials, courts, and lawyers is projected to increase the most. Research and teaching job growth is also expected to grow, in addition to jobs assisting juveniles since juvenile crime laws are always changing. Forensic psychologists holding PhDs will enjoy more job opportunities than their colleagues with bachelor's degrees since it's practically impossible to specialize without a graduate degree.

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