Due to a multitude of hit tv dramas, including Criminal Minds and CSI, forensic psychology has become well known to the public as an exciting and psychic ability for some to have. These tv dramas portray extreme personalities and behavioral habits that can be misconstrued when dealing with real life. The perspective that most of the dramas place individuals in (both the psychologists and the offenders) are maximized in emotions, evidence and behaviors.
A true forensic psychologist is an individual who applies clinical skills towards legal institutions and/or people who come into contact with the law. Any individual who comes in contact with the law can be treated and questioned by a forensic psychologist.
Although investigative psychology began in the mid 1980’s, forensic psychology is a relatively new field of study and there are still many attributes to be defined. A lot of the studies have to do with the individual’s mind and behavior, which scientifically result in pockets of research that need strengthening. Important skills like clinical assessment, interviewing, report writing, strong verbal communication skills and case presentation are the foundation to the practice. Like many other psychologists, it involves research studies, assessments, consultations and the design and implementation of treatment programs. Because forensic psychology deals with the law it also requires investigations and expert witness courtroom testimonies.
The field of study for forensic psychologists can be trying. In order to secure a job in this field one must have a PhD or a PsyD degree from an APA accredited or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) accredited doctoral program. Along with a PhD or PsyD degree, an individual must secure one year of an APA or CPA accredited predoctoral internship and an equivalent of two years of sequential, supervised professional experience overall. Some schools offer a Masters in this area but it is not always validated when trying to find a spot in this job market.
The reason for such high studies and experience are due to the job requirements. Forensic psychologists assist in a wide variety of legal matters including the mental state of criminal defendants (insanity, competency, etc.), jury selection, child custody/family law, violence risk prediction, mediation/dispute resolution, discrimination, civil damages, social science research (e.g., recovered memory), and civil commitment. All of these matters have a large impact on multiple lives and society. If an individual is deemed “insane” they may not be held responsible for a serious crime they may have committed. Each state has their own requirements towards an act such as this, but it is the forensic psychologist’s job to determine his or her mental state at the time of the crime (not how the person is functioning at the present moment). A plethora of research and information during and after the crime is needed to determine these results.
While forensic psychology pulls from other law and psychological practices, it continues to have a rare body of research that addresses questions and issues that no other area of psychology explores with an ingenious approach.