If you are an authoritative, take-charge kind of gal who isn't afraid to voice her opinion, forensic psychology may be a good career option. In a nutshell, a forensic psychologist offers her expert opinion on individuals embroiled in a dispute. Contrary to popular opinion, this doesn't always involve criminal matters or testifying in court cases. Most forensic psychologists have a doctorate in psychology that takes roughly seven years to acquire.
Forensic psychologists are often asked to play detective in looking for information before a case even goes to court. For instance, you may make a recommendation at an arraignment concerning a defendant's competency to stand trial. Or you may be present at a deposition to evaluate both verbal and non-verbal cues. Some forensic psychologists are experts at jury selection, and may be asked to render an opinion about the suitability of particular jurors.
You may spend a lot of time working on civil cases as a forensic psychologist. Either side in a civil court case may hire a forensic psychologist to evaluate litigants in insurance claims or civil lawsuits. You would typically be asked to evaluate the portion of the claim that alleges the victim has experienced emotional pain and suffering. Or you may be asked if a claimant was attempting to kill himself in an auto accident.
Perhaps the forensic psychologist's best-known role is testifying in criminal court cases. Duties might include conducting a psychological assessment to identify mental health or substance abuse issues affecting defendants – and the possibility of treatment. You would use a battery of tests, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), and interpret the results against criminal data norms. Forensic psychologists working in criminal cases may also be asked to treat patients in ongoing therapy and make regular progress reports to the court.
Your income as a forensic psychologist depends on your geographic location and experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which includes forensic psychologists in the "other" category for mental health professionals, reported in 2010 that the median annual income was $89,900. Forensic psychologists who serve as consultants to the court, defense attorneys or the prosecution, can take on as much work as they like, so their pay fluctuates.
2016 Salary Information for Psychologists
Psychologists earned a median annual salary of $75,710 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, psychologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $56,390, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $97,780, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 166,600 people were employed in the U.S. as psychologists.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.