PhD in Forensic Psychology

Who Gets One and What to Expect

A relatively young field, forensic psychology offers plenty of exciting career opportunities for observant critical thinkers with strong research and communication skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychology jobs are projected to grow by 14% through 2026.

While psychologists face a positive employment outlook, professionals in most states must hold a doctoral degree before practicing clinical psychology independently. Many candidates earn a master's degree in forensic psychology, criminal justice, or general psychology before pursuing a Ph.D. and seeking licensure. Read on to explore the benefits of earning a Ph.D. in forensic psychology online.

Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology

In most states, forensic psychologists must complete a doctoral degree before obtaining licensure and board certification. Many professionals choose to advance their careers by earning a Ph.D. in forensic psychology online. Ph.D. graduates enjoy a variety of professional and personal benefits, a few are listed below.

Income potential

While forensic psychologists enjoy an average salary of around $66,000, licensed clinical forensic psychologists typically have higher earnings, and may officially use the title forensic psychologist.

Opportunity and growth

Rapid advancements in forensic science and technology have led to an increased demand for trained practitioners and legal and psychological experts.

Career and research interests

Ph.D. students can build personalized academic plans that align with their research and career goals. Some choose to specialize in criminal or civil forensic psychology, while others choose to focus on certain demographics, such as juveniles or veterans.

Flexibility and affordability

Online Ph.D. programs are convenient, allowing students to meet on weekends, in the evenings, or at their own pace. In addition, many schools charge distance learners in-state tuition rates.

Job satisfaction

According to PayScale,forensic psychologists report being extremely satisfied with their jobs. While challenging, the profession allows practitioners to make a difference in others' lives.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Forensic Psychology?

Students can earn two types of doctorate degrees in forensic psychology online: a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.), or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). The research-based Ph.D. typically culminates in a dissertation, a comprehensive exam, or both. Psy.D. curricula places a greater emphasis on clinical practice and usually requires a significant amount of fieldwork and applied study.

Most Ph.D.-holders pursue careers as researchers or professors after graduation. Psy.D. graduates tend to work directly with patients in corrections, homeland security, law enforcement, and social services settings.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

Many forensic psychologists with doctoral degrees hold similar roles under different titles. For example, forensic psychologists are also known as clinical forensic psychologists or forensic consultants. Professionals in academia are referred to as professors or instructors, and researchers may be called experimental forensic psychologists.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists use legal and psychological principles to help attorneys, judges, and other legal professionals understand psychological elements within court cases. They may evaluate crime victims, witnesses, or incarcerated offenders.

Average Annual Salary: $66,610

Postsecondary Teacher

Forensic psychology professors and instructors hold advanced degrees in psychology and/or law. They teach undergraduate or graduate students in postsecondary institutions and conduct and publish original research.

Average Annual Salary: $78,470

Sources: BLS; PayScale.com

Forensic Psychology Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

Most doctoral programs require applicants to provide their official academic transcripts, at least two recommendation letters from former professors, a personal statement, and GRE scores. While many programs expect prospective students to hold a master's degree in forensic psychology or a related field, some schools accept applicants who hold a relevant bachelor's or law degree.

Most forensic psychologists begin their careers by earning a doctorate in clinical psychology from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). While Ph.D. candidates usually design their own degree plans, a standard curriculum includes coursework in both psychology and law. Degree completion time depends largely on program structure and format; however, most students graduate in 4-7 years.

Although most students pursuing a forensic psychology Ph.D. online complete the bulk of their assignments through the web, nearly all online programs include an in-person practicum, internship, or clinical experience. Distance learners typically fulfill these requirements at approved facilities in their home region.

Common Courses

Doctoral-level forensic psychology curricula typically include courses in two general areas: psychology, and law and justice. Core classes often introduce research methods, personality analysis, behavioral psychology, and sex offender assessment and treatment. While course offerings differ between schools and programs, the following list includes some commonly-offered courses.

Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Patients

This course presents assessment methods frequently used in forensic psychology, such as child custody and juvenile evaluations, risk assessment, and capital punishment assessment. Students learn to diagnose various populations, including sex offenders, substance abusers, and white-collar criminals. Lectures also examine treatment methods such as intervention, psychotherapy, and restorative justice.

History of Psychology and Practice Methods

Lessons introduce the major tenets of psychology, including research methods, themes, and theoretical models, along with their associated strengths and challenges. Distance learners explore biopsychosocial, developmental, and psychodynamic models, along with diverse populations theory. Coursework also examines applied contemporary research methods, practices, and themes.

Mental Health Law

This class explores insanity and other psychiatric defenses within behavioral science, constitutional/legal, and evidentiary contexts. Candidates survey topics such as the death penalty, civil commitment and sexually violent commitment statutes, legal competency to proceed with trial and to waive rights, and the rights to treatment and to refuse treatment.

Social, Cognitive, and Biological Behavior

In this course, candidates survey environmental and biological influences on abnormal and criminal behavior, along with the causes and characteristics of violent and nonviolent behavioral disorders. Students use forensic case studies to examine contemporary behavioral diagnosis and assessment strategies as they explore treatment options for cognitive, emotional, and developmental disorders.

The Justice System

Candidates gain an in-depth understanding of forensic psychologists' role in the U.S. justice system as they learn to consult with attorneys, provide expert testimony, and compose forensic reports. Lectures may also address victims' issues within the legal system and jury selection.

Other Requirements

Most online Ph.D. programs include an applied learning component, such as a practicum, field experience, dissertation, residency, or internship. While requirements and conditions vary considerably between programs, most curricula include one or more of the features described below.

Practicum/Field Experience

A practicum or field experience allows students to synthesize and apply their acquired knowledge and skills to a real-world work setting. Working under the supervision of a professor and an on-site supervisor, candidates observe and participate in daily operations at a relevant organization or facility. Students typically begin their practicums during their second year of study.

Dissertation

Most Ph.D. students begin dissertation research between their third and fifth years of study. A dissertation is a lengthy academic paper based on original research. After completing the composition, learners must defend their dissertation before a committee. The defense process usually involves a group discussion or question-and-answer session.

Residency/Internship

Like practicums, most internships begin during a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program's second year; however, internships must be APA-accredited. While residency programs also receive APA accreditation, they typically occur after graduation. Although interns and residents work under supervision, they enjoy more autonomy than practicum participants.

Skills and Competencies

Forensic psychologists need to master certain competencies before they seek licensure and board certification. Successful practitioners must demonstrate the following core skills.

Analysis

Practitioners should be adept at collecting, examining, and using information to analyze behavioral and mental problems, prepare testimonies, evaluate and assess competency, and read prospective jurors.

Communication

Forensic psychologists must demonstrate strong oral and written communication skills as they present attorneys, judges, and juries with their observations and research. Professionals also need active listening skills to successfully interview victims and offenders.

Competence

Legal professionals rely on forensic psychologists for expert testimony. Whether serving as witnesses, trial advisors, or jury consultants, forensic psychologists must be competent, trustworthy authorities in their field.

Confidentiality

Psychologists are obligated to uphold a professional ethical code. This typically entails maintaining confidentiality agreements with patients, attorneys, and other legal professionals.

Interpersonal

Forensic psychologists must be capable of interacting with diverse populations and individuals, including accused criminals, violent offenders, death row inmates, distraught victims, and harried attorneys.

Composure

Practitioners are often required to conduct interviews and assessments within tight timelines and stressful situations. Forensic psychologists must remain calm under pressure, both on the witness stand and in the field.

Forensic Psychology Professional Organizations

While the path to becoming a forensic psychologist can often seem daunting, professional organizations can help you succeed on your journey and beyond. Organizations like the following groups offer valuable resources to help students find the right school, select a program or internship, and locate funding sources. Professional associations can also assist recent graduates as they pursue board certification, search for jobs, and survey continuing education opportunities. and laws and rules governing forensic psychology.

Members can participate in exclusive networking opportunities like conferences and workshops, and organizational members can serve as advocates for their profession by joining committees and task forces. In addition, many associations publish scholarly journals and newsletters to keep professionals aware of innovations in the field.

American Academy of Forensic Psychology

AAFP offers APA-approved continuing education workshops for students and practitioners in-person and online. Workshop topics include criminal and civil forensics, ethics, and preparing for board certification in forensic psychology.



American Psychology-Law Society

A division of the APA, AP-LS focuses on practice, public service, and scholarship in psychology and law. Members can explore publications, job postings, and information on graduate programs and grant funding.



American Board of Forensic Psychology

Comprised of industry professionals, the ABFP and its education branch, the AAFP, confer board certification on candidates who demonstrate exceptional professional competence. The ABFP website maintains a comprehensive list of certified practitioners.



American Psychological Association

The APA offers an array of resources for legal and psychology students and practitioners. Along with discounts on professional liability insurance and continuing education programs, APA members receive exclusive job opening notifications, networking and service opportunities, and scholarly publications.



International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology

Student and professional members alike can take advantage of the Association's clearinghouse for evidence-based research. Members also gain access to free online research tools, a monthly journal, and discounted books, educational materials, and conference fees.