You can begin a forensic mental health career as a nurse, psychologist, or psychiatrist — all careers that require you to use psychology in combination with legal knowledge and techniques. To get started in any of these careers, you will typically need a high school diploma or an approved equivalent as well as higher education. You can begin this career with a bachelor's degree, but you'll typically need a doctoral degree to become a psychologist or psychiatrist. In most cases, you will also need a license to practice in your jurisdiction, which usually involves proving your educational background and taking a licensing exam.
Regardless of whether you want to begin a forensic mental health career as a nurse, psychologist, or psychiatrist, you will need a high school diploma. This credential, or an equivalent certificate, is required for admission to a bachelor's degree program. While you are in high school, you may do well to take classes that provide a foundation of knowledge in science and health to prepare for this career. Additionally, classes and activities that help you build analytical and communication skills can provide crucial preparation.
The bachelor's degree you seek will generally depend on what you'd like to do in this field. If you want to become a nurse, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree in nursing to go into forensic mental health. You can also pursue this career after earning a diploma or associate's degree in nursing, but you may have better job prospects if you earn at least a bachelor's degree. If you want to become a psychologist or psychiatrist, the degree you earn will prepare you for further education. To become a psychologist, you may do well to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology, but you may choose a science or pre-med major when you want to become a psychiatrist.
You will need graduate-level education if you choose to go into forensic mental health as a psychiatrist or psychologist. To become a psychologist, you will usually need a master's and a doctoral degree in forensic psychology or a closely related field. It is important to note that you can land some mental health jobs with only a master's degree, but you will typically need a doctorate to become a licensed psychologist.
If you choose to become a forensic psychiatrist, you will have to attend medical school rather than earning a master's and a doctoral degree. You can usually pursue any bachelor's degree you want in college, but science, psychology, and pre-medicine majors may prove particularly appropriate. After college, medical school is the next step in becoming a psychiatrist, followed by a few years of a type of on-the-job training referred to as a residency. To get specific training in the forensic psychiatry specialty, you may then participate in a fellowship program that lasts a year or two.
Most jurisdictions require nurses, psychiatrists, and psychologists to obtain licensing before they can practice in their fields. As such, you will need to provide proof that you have received the required education for the career you seek. Then, you'll typically have to pass a licensing exam.