Forensic psychologists are designated expert witnesses who use psychological principles to help judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals understand the psychological findings of a particular case. They typically specialize in one of three areas: family court, civil court or criminal court. Those working in family court may perform child custody evaluations, investigate reports of child abuse, or offer psychotherapy. Criminal court forensic psychologists can evaluate mental competency, work with child witnesses, and assess juvenile or adult offenders. Civil court forensic psychologists offer second opinions, assess competency, and provide therapy to crime victims.
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Forensic Psychology Programs
To become a forensic psychologist, you will need a forensic psychology degree, usually a PhD. A doctoral degree requires about five years of full-time graduate study, including a variety of forensic psychology classes and ending with a dissertation based on original research. You will also need to be certified as a forensic psychologist by The American Board of Professional Psychology, which involves a combination of postdoctoral training in forensic psychology, several years of supervised experience, and successful completion of a specialty board examination.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wages for psychologists was $64,140 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $48,700 and $82,800. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,900, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,840.
In 2008 -- the most recent year for which the BLS has figures -- there were about 15,900 non-specific psychologists (including forensic psychologists) in the U.S. The BLS expects the job market for non-specific psychologists in general to rise about 14 percent over the next ten years.