forensic psychology and investigation

How Long Does It Take to Finish Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology combines the fields of psychology and criminal justice. So, those who pursue careers in forensic psychology must be skilled and knowledgeable in both fields. Typically, a forensic psychologist completes a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate program, ultimately achieving a doctorate degree in psychology. To become a forensic psychologist, doctoral level education must be pursued.

Forensic Psychology Career Overview

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Forensic psychologists apply the science of psychology to the criminal, court, and corrections systems. A forensic psychologist may offer treatment to sexual offenders, act as an expert witness to explain psychological concepts in court, or provide consultation to an attorney regarding a person's state of mind. Forensic psychologists are found in academia, private sector, and public service. Forensic psychologists may assist in legal matters such as the mental status examination of criminal defendants, violence risk assessment, civil law, mediation/dispute resolution, research, or child custody/family law.

Skills Needed for a Successful Forensic Psychology Career

Good Communication (Both Verbal and Written)

Critical Thinking

Strong Research Skills

Ability to Observe

Forensic Psychology Career Concentrations

  • Attorney ($115,820 median salary as of 2015) 
  • Judge ($126,930 median salary as of 2015) 
  • Detective ($77,210 median salary as of 2015) 
  • Experimental Forensic Psychologist ($94,590 median salary as of 2015) 
  • Trial Consultant ($94,590 median salary as of 2015)
  • Attorney

An attorney represents entities in legal cases. A lawyer who has an education in forensic psychology will not have to consult with one or may serve as a second opinion to a forensic psychologist who is brought in on a trial.

  • Judge

A judge oversees the legal proceedings in the courtroom such as trials and arraignments. Forensic psychology training can help a judge determine how dangerous an individual is to society. For those considering education in forensic psychology but do not want to obtain a doctorate degree, it is important to note that only a Juris Doctor degree is needed to be a judge.

  • Detective 

Detectives are police officers who head criminal investigations. Training in forensic psychology may be useful when they interrogate or interview witnesses. Becoming a detective rarely requires more than a Bachelor's degree.

  • Experimental Forensic Psychologist 
Experimental Forensic Psychologist

An experimental forensic psychologist conducts research and experiments. Since the advice lawyers and courts receive is based on data from research, this role is crucial to the field. Anyone looking to be an experimental forensic psychologist would be a good fit for a PhD program in psychology with a specialization in forensic psychology if possible.

  • Trial Consultant 
Trial Consultant

A trial consultant offers advice to lawyers in regard to legal cases. This advice is typically based on data from research. A trial consultant may offer advice on how to choose the best jury or evaluate the strength of an opposing expert testimony. While there are no specific education requirements to become a trial consultant, success in this career is based on credibility and reputation. Therefore, a doctoral degree is practically required.

Career Outlook

As it stands, forensic psychology is a rapidly growing field. The American Psychology-Law Society has grown exponentially in recent years.

Forensic psychology is expected to grow as a field, despite the challenges it faces related to the scientific scrutiny of psychological evidence. The growth is related to many factors For one, many psychologists have abandoned traditional managed care in favor of forensic psychology. Cultural obsession with and portrayal of criminal topics by the media have led to more students being interested in the field. More rigorous training programs, instruments, and procedures are being developed to help psychological evidence stand up in court. All in all, well-trained forensic psychologists are likely to do well in the field as the market for this career faces both increasing demand and skepticism.

Educational Requirements

Get a Bachelor's Degree (4 years) 

Get a Master's Degree (2 years) 

Get a Law Degree (Optional) 

Get a Doctorate Degree in Psychology (4-5 years) 

Get Licensed (Optional) 

Get Board Certified (Optional) 


Given that information, it should take approximately 10-11 years to fulfill the educational requirements for a forensic psychology career. This does not include any breaks or detours in education or the time to complete goals after education, such as the time it takes to get licensed. The time it takes can be shortened a bit, if one takes the proper steps such as enrolling in summer or winter sessions during undergraduate study.

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