Theories An Overview of Forensic Psychology What do forensic psychologists do?ByKendra CherryKendra CherryFacebookTwitterKendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.Learn about our editorial processUpdated on May 04, 2020Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Emily SwaimFact checked byEmily SwaimLinkedInEmily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.Learn about our editorial processPeter Dazeley / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of ContentsOverviewHistoryWhat Do They Do?Distinguishing FeaturesEducation and TrainingCareers Forensic psychology is a field that combines the practice of psychology and the law. Those who work in this field utilize psychological expertise as it applies to the justice system. The word 'forensic' originates from the Latin word 'forensis,' which means "the forum," or the court system of Ancient Rome. Overview The American Board of Forensic Psychology describes this field as the application of psychology to issues that involve the law and legal system. Interest in forensic psychology has grown significantly in recent years. Increasing numbers of graduate programs offer dual degrees in psychology and law, while others provide specialization in forensic psychology. Some psychologists hold a specialist degree in forensic psychology, but most are licensed psychologists who hold either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. These professionals may work in both criminal and civil law areas. History While forensic psychology is considered a rather new specialty area within psychology, the field dates back to the earliest days in psychology's history. Philosophers and scientists have long sought to understand what makes people commit crimes, behave aggressively, or engage in antisocial behaviors. Forensic psychology is a relatively new specialty area. In fact, forensic psychology was just officially recognized as a specialty area by the American Psychological Association in 2001. Despite this, the field of forensic psychology has roots that date back to Wilhelm Wundt's first psychology lab in Leipzig, German. Learn more about some of the major events and key figures in the history of forensic psychology. Today, forensic psychologists are not only interested in understanding why such behaviors occur, but also in helping minimize and prevent such actions. The field has experienced dramatic growth in recent years as more and more students become interested in this applied branch of psychology. Popular movies, television programs, and books have helped popularize the field, often depicting brilliant heroes who solve vicious crimes or track down killers using psychology. While depictions of forensic psychology in popular media are certainly dramatic and attention-grabbing, these portrayals are not necessarily accurate. That said, forensic psychologists do play an important role in the criminal justice system. It can be an exciting career for students interested in applying psychological principles to the legal system. What Do They Do? If you enjoy learning about the science of human behavior and the law, then forensic psychology will probably interest you quite a bit. The field has witnessed dramatic growth in recent years, as more and more students become interested in this applied branch of psychology. However, forensic psychology is about much more than the glamorized views portrayed in television shows, movies, and books. Common Job RolesSome of the functions typically performed within forensic psychology include:Competency evaluationsSentencing recommendationsEvaluations of the risk of reoffendingTestimony as an expert witnessChild custody evaluationsAcademic research on criminalityConsult with law enforcementTreatment of criminal offendersProvide psychological services to inmates and offendersTrial consultants who help with jury selection, witness preparation, or legal strategiesDesign correctional programs Forensic psychology is defined as the intersection of psychology and the law, but forensic psychologists can perform many roles, so this definition can vary. In many cases, people working in forensic psychology are not necessarily "forensic psychologists." These individuals might be clinical psychologists, school psychologists, neurologists, or counselors who lend their psychological expertise to provide testimony, analysis, or recommendations in legal or criminal cases. Clinical Psychology Careers Training, Salary, andOutlook For example, a clinical psychologist might provide mental health services such as assessment, diagnosis, and treatment to individuals who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. Clinicians might be asked to determine if a suspected criminal has a mental illness, or they may be asked to provide treatment to individuals who have substance abuse and addiction issues. Another example is that of a school psychologist. While people in this profession typically work with children in school settings, a school psychologist working in forensic psychology might evaluate children in suspected abuse cases, help prepare children to give testimony in court, or offer testimony in child custody disputes. Distinguishing Features So what exactly makes forensic psychology different from another specialty area such as clinical psychology? Typically, the duties of a forensic psychologist are fairly limited in terms of scope and duration. A forensic psychologist is asked to perform a very specific duty in each individual case, such as determining if a suspect is mentally competent to face charges. Unlike the typical clinical setting where a client has voluntarily sought out assistance or evaluation, a forensic psychologist usually deals with clients who are not there of their own free will. This can make assessment, diagnosis, and treatment much more difficult since some clients willfully resist attempts at help. Education and Training Forensic psychology is not a common degree option, yet more and more schools are offering it as a specialty. If you are interested in becoming a forensic psychologist, you should take courses that focus on topics such as: Criminal psychologySocial behaviorAbnormal behaviorCognitive psychologyPerceptionDrugs and psychopharmacologyLawCriminal justice If your school does offer coursework or a degree option in forensic psychology, you can expect to tackle topics that include deviant behavior, the psychology of criminal behavior, criminal risk assessment, domestic violence, mental health social policy, juvenile criminal justice, and adult offender treatment. The growing popularity of the field has also led to an increase in the number of master's level forensic psychology degrees. Many experts suggest that such programs, while popular and appealing, have a disadvantage over clinical, doctoral-level training. Doctoral-level study in forensic psychology typically focuses on topics including research methods, personality analysis, cognitive science, psychology and the law, ethical and legal issues, assessment, and treatment. While there is no certification requirement for forensic psychologists, becoming a licensed psychologist has professional advantages in terms of establishing credibility and expertise. Careers While forensic psychology may not be all about solving crimes and getting inside the minds of criminals, there are still plenty of challenges for forensic psychologists. There are a number of different job options within the field of forensic psychology. For example, some forensic psychologists work directly in the criminal justice system to assess, evaluate, and treat individuals who have committed crimes or have been the victims of crimes. Other forensic psychologists investigate cases of alleged child abuse, work with child witnesses, evaluate individuals involved in child custody disputes, and assess mental competency. If you are interested in a field such as forensic or criminal psychology, you might want to spend some time researching some of the exciting career options in forensic psychology. The degree you choose to pursue may depend somewhat on what you want to do as a forensic psychologist, so figuring this out early on can be helpful in planning your educational path. A Word From Verywell Forensic psychology can be an exciting and challenging career choice. Skills that you might need if you choose to pursue a career in this field include the ability to communicate well, research problems, and think critically. Was this page helpful?Thanks for your feedback!What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.American Board of Forensic Psychology. About.American Psychology Association. Speciality Guidelines for Forensic Psychology.American Psychological Association. What is forensic psychology? Additional ReadingDavies GM, Beech AR (eds). Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law Interventions. 3rd ed.Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons; 2017.Fulero SM, Wrightsman LS. Forensic Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2009.