Earning a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Online
Should I Pursue a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Online?
Forensic psychologists apply their psychological training to legal and criminal justice issues, working throughout law enforcement, the court system, social services, healthcare, and education. They may be tasked with developing and assessing treatment programs, consulting with trial attorneys and judges, providing expert testimony, conducting clinical evaluations and counseling, and serving as teaching and research faculty in postsecondary institutions. In short, graduates of online forensic psychology doctorate degree programs enter challenging and rewarding positions with greater responsibilities and higher salaries than those with less advanced degrees.
Working as a licensed forensic psychologist usually requires a doctoral degree. The best Ph.D. in forensic psychology candidates approach problems analytically, possess a broad knowledge of the law and the legal system, and leverage their extensive psychological and research training.
Many schools have introduced online paths to a doctoral degree. The flexibility of distance learning can appeal to professionals already working in the field, as well as to those with personal commitments that hamper their ability to attend on-campus degree programs.
Employment Outlook for Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Graduates
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a healthy employment outlook for all psychologists — including those in forensic specialties — with an overall projected growth rate of 14% through 2026. The increasing demand for forensic psychologists reflects the recognition of the invaluable service they perform in the legal and judicial systems, healthcare facilities, and academic institutions.
While forensics psychologists employed by government and law enforcement agencies earn the most competitive salaries, those working in clinical settings, counseling, and consulting also find a variety of well-paying positions. In addition to a broad-based understanding of psychology and law, forensic psychologists must possess a strong background in research methodology, superior interpersonal and communication skills, and well-developed analytical and problem-solving abilities.
Department Chair (College/University)
Average Annual Salary: $84,898
Department chairs preside over college and university forensic psychology programs. They administer the curriculum and set program goals for their academic units. Their responsibilities include hiring and evaluating faculty and staff, scheduling courses, advising students, and overseeing operational budgets. They also administer research initiatives within their departments, allocating grants and other funding.
Average Annual Salary: $79,010
These licensed professionals must hold a doctorate in a forensic psychology specialization. They work in courts, correctional facilities, hospitals, private clinics, government and law enforcement agencies, and other settings. They use their knowledge of psychological principles and assessment to assist judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals in civil or criminal cases.
Average Annual Salary: $78,470
Most higher education institutions hire postsecondary educators who have earned a Ph.D. Postsecondary faculty in forensic psychology or a related field develop instructional plans and syllabi, and teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Their responsibilities also include advising students, conducting research and publishing their findings, and serving on committees.
Average Annual Salary: $78,205
Most research scientists have earned advanced graduate degrees. They apply their specialized knowledge to conduct pure and applied research in government agencies, private organizations, and educational institutions. They design and carry out research projects, analyze data, publish their findings in scientific journals and books, and write grant proposals for funding.
Average Annual Salary: $77,250
Clinical psychologists typically have earned a master's or Ph.D. in clinical or counseling psychology, forensic psychology, or a related field. They must also hold a valid license to practice. They work in a variety of settings, and their duties include evaluating patients, diagnosing mental disorders and behavioral issues, preparing treatment plans, and administering individual and group therapy.
Source: BLS, PayScale.com
What Can I Expect From an Online Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Program?
While degree requirements for an online forensic psychology doctorate vary from school to school, most programs share some common features. Curricula generally emphasize research methodology and statistics, the psychopathology of criminals, and prevalent applications and practices. The following course descriptions illustrate some of the classes students can expect at the doctoral level.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate Degree in Forensic Psychology
Psychopathology and Abnormal Behavior
This course introduces students to forensic psychopathology — the study and practice of psychopathology in a legal context. The course examines the major forms of abnormal, dysfunctional and maladaptive behavior, focusing on adult psychopathology. Students learn about assessments, evaluations, definitions of disorders, and diagnostic criteria using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Forensic Psychology and the Legal System
Students in this course apply psychological theories, methods, principles, research, and data to criminal, civil, and family law. The course examines the role of forensic psychologists in court cases as expert witnesses, trial consultants, and specialists in jury selection. The course also addresses applications for child custody evaluations, competency evaluation of defendants, threat evaluations for schools or employers, and counseling crime victims.
This course analyzes the psychological profile of perpetrators of domestic violence and their impact on victims, families, and communities. The course examines the cycle of domestic violence, traumatic bonding and power imbalance, and Stockholm syndrome. Course content places a special emphasis on how the criminal court system and social services handle domestic violence cases.
Forensic Psychology in Family Proceedings
This course explores historical and contemporary approaches to the protection of children under the law. Students examine the responsibilities of the state and family, education, legal treatment of abused or neglected children, government entitlement programs for children, and medical treatment of children. Other topics include adoption, surrogacy, and parentage. The course also addresses the treatment of children accused of crimes and children with disabilities.
Forensic Psychological Assessment
This course examines various forensic assessment instruments and forensic evaluations, including competency to stand trial, criminal insanity defenses, pre-sentencing, and risk of dangerousness evaluations. Students analyze types of interventions for adults, juveniles, and special populations; best practices for the communication of assessments to the courts and other referral sources; and legal and ethical responsibilities.
Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Prepares For
- Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology
This exam is required for licensure in most states. Most candidates taking the EPPP have completed a doctoral degree in psychology from an accredited institution, a year of pre-doctoral supervised experience, and appropriate post-doctoral experience. Developed and administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, the EPPP costs $600 plus test site fees.
- Specialty Board Certification in Forensic Psychology
One of only two post-doctoral specialty certifications recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA), this credential administered by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) is the highest level of certification available to forensic psychologists. Applicants must have completed their doctoral degree and demonstrate specialized forensic experience. The ABPP charges a $125 application fee but offers discounts to early career psychologists.
- Certified Forensic Mental Health Evaluator
State-licensed mental health psychologists, clinical social workers, counselors, and therapists working in the specialty of forensic mental health evaluation may apply for this voluntary certification. Applicants must document one year of post-license experience plus a minimum of 40 hours in forensic training or experience. Requirements include written and oral examinations and a practice sample review of a mental health evaluation. A $715 fee must accompany applications.
Professional Organizations & Resources
Whether you earn a doctorate in forensic psychology online or in a traditional campus-based program, membership in one of the professional associations for forensic psychology can give you a competitive edge as you enter your career. These organizations provide invaluable resources, such as networking possibilities with professionals already established in the field, information about new developments in specialized areas, and certification programs and continuing education opportunities. Many associations also provide their members with career resources and job listings.
American Academy of Forensic Sciences
AAFS supports the application of forensic sciences to the criminal justice system. The organization draws members from across the forensic sciences, including practitioners and researchers who share an interest in collaborating to improve education, research, and forensic science practice.
American Academy of Forensic Psychology
As the educational and training division of the American Board of Forensic Psychology, the AAFP maintains a continuing education program in forensic psychology, provides a forum for the exchange of scientific information, and confers awards to outstanding practitioners.
American Psychology – Law Society
This affiliate of APA offers resources for students, researchers, and early career psychologists working in forensic psychology or related fields. Student members benefit from valuable information on careers and employment opportunities, internships, and postdoctoral opportunities.
International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
IACFP promotes the development of evidence-based, practitioner-informed policies to support forensic psychologists, corrections workers, and mental health professionals working with criminal offenders. The association publishes research on the etiology, assessment, and treatment of criminal behavior.
Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators
This professional association draws its membership from forensic analysts and administrators engaged in forensic DNA analysis for the judicial system. AFDAA shares new developments about DNA analysis techniques and methods, provides continuing education, and maintains a job bank.
The National Institute of Justice
NIJ is the research, development, and evaluation branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. NIJ provides several resources, training tools, and funding opportunities for criminal justice professionals and students.
Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct
APA's ethical code presents a set of rules to guide the practice of psychologists across specialities, including forensic psychology. Membership in APA commits members and student affiliates to comply with the standards of the ethics code and the rules and procedures used to enforce them.
Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods
This major research monograph published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2016 contains recommendations to various federal agencies on ways to strengthen forensic science applications in the courtroom.
Forensic Psychology Resources and References
The Zur Institute, which administers certification and continuing education programs for mental health professionals, maintains this comprehensive collection of forensic psychology resources and references. The website features links to research monographs and and ethical guidelines for forensic psychologists.
Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology
Developed by APA in association with its American Psychology-Law affiliate, these guidelines present standards for professional conduct and practice of forensic psychologists in the legal and criminal justice systems and other organizations.
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