Forensic psychology has become one of the most popular subfields of psychology in recent years. Increasing numbers of students express interest in this field of study, yet many are not quite sure what they need to do to pursue a career in this area. If you have an interest in psychology as well as the law and criminal justice, then this is an area that certainly might interest you. So how do you get started in forensic psychology? What topics do you need to study in school, how to you find a job in the field, and what do forensic psychologists do?
Let's start first by answering the most basic question of all:
What Exactly Is Forensic Psychology?
"The professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, when they are engaged regularly as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system."
Essentially, forensic psychology involves applying psychology to the field of criminal investigation and the law. Forensic psychologists utilize their knowledge of psychological principles and use it to understand different aspects of the legal system.
It is also one of the fastest-growing disciplines within psychology. The AP-LS currently has more than 3, 000 members and continues to grow each year. Forensic psychology is also one of the disciplines I am most frequently asked about by students interested in entering the profession as a career.
So what explains the rapid growth in this particular field? The popularity of forensic psychology has grown phenomenally in recent years, partly due to sensationalized portrayals of the field in movies and television, which unfortunately are not always accurate.
Forensic psychologists are often depicted as criminal profilers who are able to almost psychically deduce a killer's next move. In reality, these professionals practice psychology as a science within the criminal justice system and civil courts. Few of these professionals work as hands-on criminal investigators in the field and even fewer are actually engaged in the process of hunting down criminals.
So what exactly do forensic psychologists do?
The Duties of a Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists are often involved in both criminal and civil matters. A few examples include custody disputes, insurance claims, and civil lawsuits. Some professionals work in family courts and offer psychotherapy services, perform child custody evaluations, investigate reports of child abuse, and conduct visitation risk assessments.
Those working in the civil courts often assess competency, provide second opinions, and provide psychotherapy to crime victims. Professionals working in the criminal courts conduct evaluations of mental competency, work with child witnesses, and provide assessment of juvenile and adult offenders.