How to become a forensic psychologist (duties and skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Forensic psychology is one of the many branches within the psychology field. It requires a certain set of skills, qualifications and further training, much like other areas of psychology. If you're considering becoming a forensic psychologist, it's important that you understand what this path entails to adequately prepare. In this article, we explore what a forensic psychologist is, explain how to become a forensic psychologist, discuss their roles and explore their average salary.

What is a forensic psychologist?

Forensic psychologists are experts in the field of psychology who work with the courts in criminal or civil cases. They help judges, lawyers and juries understand the evidence provided by a defendant, witness or victim. Forensic psychologists can work as expert witnesses, experts in court cases or consultants to lawyers.

The role of a forensic psychologist is to assist attorneys and other legal professionals with their cases. Attorneys call upon forensic psychologists to provide expert opinions regarding a person's mental status at the time of an offence, such as whether someone was sane enough to know right from wrong. They can evaluate defendants' competency to stand trial and determine whether they're likely to commit another crime if released into society.

Related: Types of forensic science (plus responsibilities and skills)

How to become a forensic psychologist

Here's how to become a forensic psychologist in nine steps:

1. Get your undergraduate degree

Get a Bachelor's degree in Psychology or a related subject. Undergraduate degrees typically take three years to complete. The coursework includes general psychology, research methods and statistics, with some specific classes in criminal justice and forensics. It's also possible to get into the field with an undergraduate degree in a non-psychology field but this can be more challenging.

2. Complete a Master's degree

A master's degree typically takes two years to complete full-time and includes additional coursework in research methods and statistics. You may complete a master's degree in Forensic Psychology, Forensic Science or any other related field. This may depend on the university you join and your preference.

Related: What is a degree in psychology? (Plus skills and careers)

3. Apply to the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) for registration

The HCPC is the regulator for all health and social care professions in England and Wales, including psychologists. If you want to work as a psychologist after graduation, register with the HCPC to practice professionally. To do this, apply using their online application form and pay the appropriate fee.

4. Take the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership with the British Psychological Society (BPS)

The Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership is a two-year training programme. It provides you with the knowledge and skills to become a registered psychologist. It's designed to prepare you to work in a wide range of settings, including private practice, schools, hospitals and the public sector.

5. Gain employment as an assistant forensic psychologist

Gain experience working with criminals and victims by becoming an assistant forensic psychologist. You can get opportunities within public health care services or other government departments. Assistant psychologists work with patients charged with a crime or victims of crime. They may also provide reports for legal cases, such as child custody disputes and divorce cases, where they assess the mental state of one or both parties involved. The role requires you to have your own caseload of patients, to help you see them regularly and provide assessment reports within a set time period.

6. Undertake a doctorate psychology program

Consider a doctorate in psychology. This typically involves researching an aspect of forensic psychology. Doctorates are under the supervision of an experienced practitioner. Doctorate Psychology programmes take any number of years to complete but are typically upwards of three years.

7. Obtain a postgraduate certificate in research experience (PGRES)

The PGRES helps you develop the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct high-quality research in the field of forensic psychology. It provides you with an opportunity to undertake supervised research involving quantitative and/or qualitative methods. You can complete this at an early stage of your career or during the course of your PhD research.

8. Acquire chartered membership with the BPS

The BPS is the professional body responsible for chartered membership in psychology. It represents the interests of psychologists at both national and international levels, promotes high standards of psychological practice and supports the development of psychology as a science and profession. Apply for chartered membership with the BPS via an online application form. It can take up to six weeks for approval by a panel of examiners from the BPS Council.

9. Apply for a forensic psychologist role

By this step, you're qualified and have your BPS membership. Begin applying for forensic psychology roles in the public or private sector. Browse for listings that advertise forensic psychologist vacancies.

Related: Careers in forensic psychology (with duties and salary)

Forensic psychologist's primary duties

The duties of forensic psychologists vary depending on their employer and their specific job responsibilities. Some forensic psychologists work solely with children while others specialise with adults or juveniles exclusively. Forensic psychologists work in either private practice or within public institutions such as hospitals or prisons where they may evaluate patients for mental health issues that affect their ability to stand trial for crimes committed against others. The responsibilities of a forensic psychologist include the following:

  • Undertaking risk assessments: A forensic psychologist assesses an individual risk to society, at which point they may complete a risk assessment and provide recommendations.

  • Providing psychological evaluations: A forensic psychologist conducts psychological evaluations in criminal cases. They may assess whether or not an individual was mentally competent at the time of their alleged crime and any other mental issues that may have contributed to it.

  • Testifying in court: A forensic psychologist provides expert testimony during proceedings if a court case involves any kind of mental illness.

Related: Forensic Psychologist Job Profile

Forensic psychologist salary

The national average salary of a forensic psychologist is £34,477 per year. The amount that you can make depends on a range of factors, including the location of the company and your level of experience. Qualifications and certifications can also influence your income.

Forensic psychologists working hours

The working hours of forensic psychologists vary depending on the type of work they do. They may work in private practice or for public services. If you work for public services, your working hours may be similar to those of other professionals in those organisations. Your normal working hours are between 8 am and 6 pm.

If you decide to work part-time, this could mean that your working week is reduced to three days rather than five days. There are occasions when you may work outside of normal working hours. This is usually either due to an emergency or the organisation requiring extra cover due to sickness absence.

Benefits of working as a forensic psychologist

Here are some of the main benefits of working as a forensic psychologist:

  • Job security: The demand for qualified psychologists may be on the rise as these professionals can work with various departments and employers.

  • Good salary: Like other psychologists, forensic psychologists earn good salaries and enjoy excellent job security.

  • Interesting people: You can learn a lot about human behaviour and how to tackle different situations while working with a range of specialised professionals.

  • Rewarding work: Working with people who have experienced trauma or who are suffering from mental health issues can be rewarding and satisfying. You have the opportunity to help people overcome their problems and live happier lives.

Forensic psychologist skills

Here are the most common skills of a forensic psychologist:

  • Empathy: Forensic psychologists empathise with their their clients to better understand their perspectives.

  • Excellent communication skills: They explain complex issues clearly and free of jargon so that others understand what's going on.

  • Problem-solving skills: Forensic psychologists resolve conflicts or disputes to keep working environments as calm as possible.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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  • How much does a forensic psychologist make? (Plus tasks)


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