Forensic psychologists perform clinical evaluations and counseling services within the realm of criminal justice. Among many other tasks, they study criminal behavior, provide one-on-one counseling, and assess suspects' competency to stand trial. An individual who wants to become a forensic psychologist typically needs to obtain an advanced degree in the specialty and gain practical experience in entry-level criminal justice positions. With the appropriate education and training, a person can become a forensic psychologist in a civil or criminal court system, law enforcement agency, or another professional setting.
An individual who wants to become forensic psychologist can begin the educational path by enrolling in an accredited four-year university. There are very few undergraduate programs dedicated specifically to forensic psychology, so most future professionals major in general psychology. In addition to a standard psychology core curriculum, a student who wants to become a forensic psychologist can benefit from taking classes in sociology, social work, political science, and criminal justice. Many undergraduates look for internships or entry-level jobs at detention centers, youth counseling programs, and halfway houses to gain practical experience working with criminal or at-risk populations.
Near the end of a bachelor's degree program, a student can begin applying to schools that offer master's or doctoral degrees in psychology. There are more opportunities to specialize in forensic psychology at the graduate level, but if such a program is not available, a person can still benefit from a broader clinical or counseling psychology program. Most master's degree programs take about two years to complete, while a PhD can take between four and six years. Students learn about the principles of forensic psychology through detailed coursework, independent research, and practical internships. Interning at a court or law enforcement agency helps to improve a person's credentials and chances of finding full-time work after graduation.
With a degree, an individual can browse Internet job databases and speak with court representatives to learn about opportunities to become a forensic psychologist. In most cases, new workers act as assistants to established psychologists for several weeks or months. A dedicated assistant may be given the chance to perform evaluations and offer counseling under supervision. In most countries and regions, a new professional is required to complete a set number of supervised work hours before he or she can take board certification exams and officially become a forensic psychologist.
National organizations such as the American Board of Forensic Psychology in the United States provide certification to workers who complete the requisite supervised hours and pass extensive written tests. A psychologist must be able to prove he or she has a strong understanding of both counseling strategies and the law. With certification, professionals generally enjoy ample opportunities to work independently in the field.