The study of forensic psychology gives people the opportunity to improve society’s understanding of crime’s effects. Those working in the field may have the chance to provide preemptive services for individuals who show indicators of criminal activity or violent behavior and help give them the chance to live better lives. The online bachelor’s in forensic psychology degree offered by Maryville University can be an excellent introduction to forensic psychology and help students explore potential careers in this sector.
The Essence of Forensic Psychology
According to the specific criteria established by the American Psychological Association (APA), forensic psychology centers around “the application of clinical [psychological] specialties to the legal arena.” While this is true, it establishes extremely broad parameters, which prospective students should closely examine before deciding if this area of study is right for them. Additionally, the word “forensic” may confuse some who think of forensics as analyzing crime-scene evidence.
Forensic psychology involves working with the offenders and victims of crimes, as well as assisting those tasked with enforcing, practicing, and applying the law. Film and TV dramatizations cover this profession with some frequency, and the most popular mainstream examples, like “Criminal Minds,” add considerably more action to the job than what the average real-life professional will likely see. Those in this field may indeed examine some of the most disturbing mental processes one can imagine — and quite a few that the average individual simply can’t imagine.
Psychology Today points out that those working at the highest levels of this field almost invariably have a doctorate in psychology, but they often began their post-secondary education with a bachelor’s degree program.
Areas of Forensic Psychology
Individuals looking for an introduction to forensic psychology may research several different roles as they navigate various forensic psychology professions. The following areas may interest individuals looking into potential careers:
- Legal proceedings: The APA states that forensic psychology professionals can play major roles in legal proceedings. For example, they may determine the validity of insanity pleas — formally referred to as mens rea petitions — filed by criminal defense attorneys. This requires not only a comprehensive knowledge of the psychological conditions that can lead to violent behavior but also an understanding of the different legal thresholds for insanity. Such laws vary by state, and the federal government has its own criteria for the condition as well.
- Trial proceedings and queries: According to the American Board of Forensic Psychology, the profession plays a role in determining whether jurors are objective, a process called voir dire. Prosecutors and defenders benefit from the insights of forensic psychology experts during voir dire. For example, a forensic psychology expert might look for specific behavioral clues and read between the lines of answers to voir dire queries to try to determine how a juror might respond to evidence during a trial.
- Crime solving: Forensic psychology professionals may take a hands-on approach to crime solving. Professionals collaborate with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as district, state, or federal prosecutors’ offices. In this capacity, forensic psychology professionals analyze violent criminals at large, examining crime-scene evidence and evaluating suspects’ histories.
- Mental health facilities and prisons: Forensic psychology professionals also work in mental health facilities and prisons, giving input on patient or inmate behavior. They support certified forensic psychologists in assessing housing assignments, parole, release, or continued detainment of such individuals. Roles include specialist, counselor, consultant, and probation or parole officers.
- Victim advocacy: Additionally, those with a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology can take on roles as victim advocates. These professionals interact with law enforcement and other officials to offer support and social welfare services to those victimized by crimes, as well as their families and loved ones. In family court or other civil proceedings, the essential tenets of forensic psychology can help determine fitness for child custody and other aspects of family law.
Why Is Forensic Psychology Important?
Individuals interested in exploring an introduction to forensic psychology gain an understanding of why forensic psychology is important. Essentially, forensic psychologists play a vital role in applying psychology to the law. In doing so, forensic psychologists offer insights into past crimes to help prevent future crimes. In civil cases, they can influence legal outcomes for families in cases such as insurance claims or custody disputes.
Since forensic psychologists can work in a variety of locations, such as courthouses, prisons and detention centers, police stations, and law firms, they can provide evidence, navigate criminal cases, interview suspects, and serve as expert witnesses. They also play an important role in civil matters, such as child abuse cases, custody reports, and psychotherapy. They work with individuals, families, and witnesses to conduct research and assess distinct cases. The work of forensic psychologists matters because they can often provide the final piece of information or evidence necessary to fairly and effectively resolve cases.
Earnings in Forensic Psychology
PayScale reports that the annual median salary for forensic psychologists is around $69,500, which is higher than the Census Bureau’s median U.S. household salary of $51,939. As previously stated, additional education at the graduate level is required to be a full-fledged licensed forensic psychologist, so if this is a career goal, starting with earning a bachelor’s degree can be an important first step.
There are many possible career opportunities spanning beyond the role of psychologist within the broader field of forensic psychology that are attainable with a BA — such as a correctional treatment specialist or social services manager. These careers provide the potential to earn a good living, with median salaries of $54,290 and $67,150, respectively, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, these roles can help professionals gain an introduction to forensic psychology and experience that may ultimately be beneficial for the future pursuit of a doctorate.
What a Forensic Psychology Program Can Offer
Alongside explorations of psychological and criminal theory, students in programs such as Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in forensic psychology degree can also bolster their research, investigatory, critical-thinking, and communication skills by working to earn this degree. Program participants can develop a broad spectrum of knowledge that includes pragmatic and practical core competencies as well as an understanding of the more abstract, complex concepts that apply to the human mind. Now that you have an introduction to forensic psychology, learn more about potential career outcomes.
Resources and Tips for a Career in Criminal Justice
DNA Profiling: How Is It Used in Criminal Justice?
Going Back to School for Psychology
American Psychological Association, “Ethical Practice in Forensic Psychology: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals”
American Board of Forensic Psychology, About
Houston Chronicle, “Criminal Psychologist vs. Forensic Psychologist”
PayScale, Average Forensic Psychologist Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social and Community Service Managers