Forensic Psychology Degree: Interesting Facts and Things to Know

Today we want to tell you about the how to earn a forensic psychology degree. This is a pretty interesting field and we have loads to tell you about today. Get ready to have some serious knowledge dropped on you today, kids!

Forensic Psychology Degree

fp3For starters, what exactly is forensic psychology? Forensic psychology is a separate branch of the psychology field that works closely with the justice system. It is a pretty interesting sub field of psychology that delves into the criminal mind, behaviors and patterns. As a forensic psychologist you are not bound only to working in the criminal justice field. You will also be able to work with victims, attorneys and in research to help learn about human behavior and how it relates to the justice system.

To work in the field you will be required to earn a master’s degree, but you will learn a lot of great stuff along the way during your undergraduate degrees on an associate’s and bachelor’s level. We have a lot of great information for you on all of that today plus much more. So, prop up your feet and settle in while we tell you everything you need to know about earning a forensic psychology degree and beyond.

What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?

As a forensic psychologist you will work in legal settings such as a testifying in court or working with witnesses to determine the accuracy of their memories. You may also work one on one with suspected criminals to determine what their mental state is and if they need further psychological treatment or testing. There is really no end to what you will do on a daily basis once you have earned your degree. You can bet that it’s nothing like what you see in the movies or on TV though!

What Makes a Good Forensic Psychologist?

You may be wondering if you have what it takes to be a good forensic psychologist after you complete your education. So, it is with that in mind that we are going to tell you about some of the qualities that make a good forensic psychologist. Don’t worry if you feel like you are lacking in some of these areas though. You have plenty of time to work on them while you are working towards a degree in this super interesting field. Take a look at the following qualities of a good forensic psychologist:

  • Objectivity: Maintaining a certain level of objectivity is important when you are working as in forensic psychology. It will be hard at times to resist the urge to input your own feelings when you feel strongly enough about a situation, but in order to maintain the integrity of the profession, it will be necessary to remove your ego and approach everything objectively.
  • Critical Thinking: This job will require you to do a lot of research that will help you to answer a great many of the questions that each case poses. Using critical thinking skills will help you to evaluate things from a logical and even scientific perspective.
  • Thoroughness and Attention to Detail: These two skills are very important in the forensic psychology field. You will often need to work tirelessly to ensure that no detail goes unnoticed. Paying close attention to each and every detail will help you to have a complete and total picture of what you are dealing with, which will ultimately lead to the success you experience in your job.
  • Effective Communication: When working as a forensic psychologist it will be very important to have the ability to properly express your thoughts and case findings. You will need to be able to communicate not only orally, but also in written fashion as well. There will be a lot of reporting that you are required to do and the better you are able to communicate the necessary information, the better job you are doing.

Let’s Talk Degrees

As we briefly mentioned, you will need to work your way from an associate’s degree all the way through to a master’s degree. Let’s take a look at each degree level now and see what you can expect from each.

Associate’s Degree

When you are first starting out on your journey to earn a forensic psychology degree, you may decide to attend a community college and earn an associate’s degree. Since associate’s degrees are only two year programs, there isn’t a way to cover everything that you would need to become a forensic psychologist. You can, however, take as many psychology and related social science classes as possible. These classes will help to prepare you for the next phase of earning an undergraduate degree.

Let’s look at some of the classes that you will have available to you at an associate’s degree level:

  • Introduction to Psychology: In the Introduction to Psychology course you will study human behavior and thought. This introductory course will cover a great many topics and concepts. You can expect to learn about, research methodology, biopsychology, sensation, consciousness, memory, cognition, intelligence and much more.
  • Self Awareness: This course will assist student will help potential forensic psychology students with the tools of goal setting and decision making. You will have these tools in your arsenal and will be ready to use them once you are working as a forensic psychologist.

Bachelor’s Degree

Once you have completed your associate’s degree you can then move onto completing a bachelor’s degree. If you’d rather skip attending a community college for your two year degree, that’s fine too! You can go right into a four year university or college instead. You can definitely earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology that will set you perfectly on the path to the final stages of your education.

Earning a bachelor’s degree will help you to learn all about the relationship between psychology and the criminal justice system. Most bachelor’s programs aim to ensure that each student has a solid understanding of individual behavior from a biological, cognitive, social and emotional level. There is further emphasis placed on how these behaviors affect social interactions and what role they eventually place in a community setting.

There are even more interesting classes presented at the bachelor’s level. Here are some of the courses you may be able to take:

  • Cognitive Psychology: In this class you will study the essential concepts of cognitive psychology which includes topics like perception, reasoning, language, learning and memory. This class has an emphasis on cognitive neuroscience too.
  • Abnormal Psychology: Abnormal psychology will offer you a deeper understanding and definition of psychological disorders. You will also be provided with important information on how distinct psychological perspectives may aid in diagnosing and treating these disorders.

Master’s Degree

Earning your master’s degree in forensic psychology is tough to say the least. You will really have to focus and use all of your brain cells to get through it. This is for most, the final stages before jumping into the deep end and working in the forensic psychology field. During this phase of your education you can expect to work hard on your thesis statement and really lock in the remaining skills needed to become a forensic psychologist.

You won’t be able to dodge out of attending classes though, but we’re pretty sure that you won’t be bored! Here are a couple class options available during the master’s degree level:

  • Crisis Intervention: This class was designed to get students familiarized with the many difference aspects of crisis intervention. You will learn how to act as an effective crisis therapist, crisis assessment, intervention strategies and how to critically analyze situations.
  • Substance Abuse Assessment and Intervention: In this class you will become rather familiar with the different aspects of substance abuse and the treatment options. A few of the topics covered in this course are substance abuse in medical and social circumstances. You will also cover the behavioral models of addiction, the psychological effects of drugs and intervention techniques.

Where Can I Work?

Most of us aren’t able to earn a college degree without having to get a job after graduation to showcase our brand new skills. If you are like the rest of us and need to hit the daily grind, you may be interested in hearing about some of the jobs that you can have with your new degree. Let’s take a look now!

  • Expert Witness: As a forensic psychologist, you will be an excellent candidate to work as an expert witness in a criminal case that will require you to testify during a trial. Both prosecuting and defense attorneys may call upon you to testify about the competency or sanity of the defendant in the case. Some of the trial settings that your may be of value are custody cases, criminal cases and determining the accuracy of eyewitness testimonies.
  • Jury Consultant: Since you will have great insight into the human mind, attorneys may want to hire you to help them with jury selection for upcoming trials. Your duties here will be setting up mock juries, analyzing various focus groups, researching cases and corresponding materials and of course using your other forensic psychology skills to assess whether or not the potential jurists are right for the job.
  • Law Enforcement: You may really luck out and get offered a full time position in law enforcement, either in an actual police department or as an independent consultant. Some of the things that you may do in a law enforcement setting are: suicide intervention, counseling of victims post-trauma, stress management as well as criminal profiling. You may also be tasked with aiding police departments in developing officer training programs and partake in the hiring process of new officers.
  • Victim Advocacy: A lot of forensic psychologists opt to go into the victim advocacy field to utilize their skills and make a difference in the aftermath of crimes. As a victim advocate you will help victims and their families with any legal assistance and support that they need. You will be able to pass on information about crisis intervention, shelter, education and strategies to prevent recurring issues with victim safety. There are times when you may even need to offer support throughout court proceedings.
  • fp2Juvenile Offenders: If you earn a master’s degree you will be able to get a job working with juvenile offenders in a few different mediums. You may decide to that you’d like to counsel young offenders that are residents in crime rehabilitation programs where you will have to assess, diagnose and plan appropriate treatments for each young person. You may also provide services to their families along with aiding them in the reintegration process with substance abuse treatments, life skills training, conflict resolution and anger management counseling.

Notable Forensic Psychologists

We love reading about the history of how certain professions began and about some of the people that were integral to making those fields what they are today. It is with this in mind that we did a bit of research (it’s what we do best, after all) to find out about some of the founding fathers of forensic psychology. Come along with us back in time to learn about these awesome dudes and how they contributed to the forensic psychology world!

William Stern

William Stern definitely left his mark on forensic psychology when he came up with the I.Q. test and the theory of eye witness testimony. He first began to test his theories in 1901 when he was a professor at the University of Beslau. He actually staged a fight halfway through his lecture that ultimately ended in one of his students pulling out a revolver, which prompted Stern to stop the fight.

Stern then asked his students to write down in detail what they had witnessed. There were about 4 to 12 errors made on each report. This interesting and albeit questionable experiment, was key in his development of eye witness testimony and without it our legal system would likely be very different today.

 Hugo Munsterberg

Hugo Munsterberg is a well noted scholar from the early 20th century. He is famous for his work with witnesses in forensic psychology. He was at the head of the concept that person’s memory associations, judgments and suggestions can potentially alter their memories of events. He also maintained that these alterations can even take place without the person having any desire to be deceitful or change their recorded testimony.

He conducted experiments on regular students having them recount certain experiences as carefully and precisely as he could. He would then show them a card with dots on it for 5 seconds and then asked them to write the number of dots down. Students were incorrect rather frequently even when they were given ample time to prepare an answer. His studies cemented the fact that witness testimony should never be taken at face value because external factors were usually at play even subconsciously.

Stanley Milgram

We all know and love Stanley Milgram for his famous psychological study on obedience. He notably conducted the experiment where the experimenter was charged with asking a participant a serious of questions and for each one that was answered incorrectly they received a shot. Participants were unaware of is that the voice they heard answering questions was simply a recording and not an actual live person.

To push the envelope, the recorded voice reacts to the shocks in a rather frightening manner, which increases the stress level of the participants. They are then prodded to continue the experiment by the authority figure nearby. The participants reacted to the authority figure standing by and reached voltages of 300 to 450. This experiment cemented the theory that many people will blindly follow authority figures.

Thomas Bond

Many in the psychological field consider Thomas Bond to be one of the first to use offender profiling in the attempt to locate a criminal while the case was still unfolding. Bond was a revolutionary in the criminal field and definitely had a hand in how we track and capture serial killers today. Serial killers can be very different to track and catch due to their unique psychological makeup, which spurred Bond into action to break their behaviors and patterns down.

Thomas Bond famously consulted on the Jack the Ripper murder investigation. He gave Scotland Yard detectives a great amount of insight into what he believed the murderer’s habits and personality traits were. The key points there were made by Bond are now incorporated into nearly every profile of serial killers today. We also know that he was pretty much spot on in his assessment of Jack the Ripper as the case was finally solved a few months ago.

William Marston

William Marston was a student of Hugo Munsterberg and was an inventor on top of his work in the psychological field. We owe much of what became of polygraph testing to him as he was first person to link stress levels and emotions with blood pressure. He partnered up with inventor John Larson in 1921 to create the polygraph test.

Marston was also one of the first expert witnesses in a legal case in the United States. He is credited with making it acceptable and common practice to allow expert witnesses to aid in legal cases even without a medical degree. He set this precedent with the 1923 case of Frye vs. the United States.

A really awesome fact about Marston, although it has nothing to do with his contributions to forensic psychology, is that he is the creator of Wonder Woman! Some do, however, suggest that there are still psychological undertones to her character. One theory is that he felt that women were more reliable than men and could work faster and more accurately than their male counterparts. It’s too bad that only the Lasso of Truth could get that information out of him.

Reading Rainbow Time

We were trying to think of some things that would enhance your time in school earning a degree as well as something that will expand your knowledge base of forensic psychology. We combed through the internet and even asked out old forensic psychology professor about some helpful books to tell you about today. We think our list is pretty good and we are super excited to share it with you.

  • Forensic Psychology by Christopher Cronin: This is an interesting and very informative book that engages and introduces the reader to the field of forensic psychology. The main goal of this book is to provide readers with an in depth understanding of the practice, criminal responsibility, competency evaluations, child custody evaluations, police psychology, correctional psychology and evaluations of psychological injury. There are also some really great sections on legal psychology, trial consultation, criminal investigative psychology and eyewitness memory and recovered memories.
  • Forensic and Criminal Psychology by Dennis Howitt: Howitt’s book provides readers with a thorough introduction into some of the major issues in the forensic and criminal psychology fields. This is a pretty interesting book to read and it doesn’t seem to drag on as much as some books on this subject. There are engaging sections on the childhood of offenders and risk assessment of future offenses.
  • Introduction to Forensic Psychology by Curt and Anne Bartol: This book is great for those that are interested in reading a broad examination of forensic psychology with an emphasis on the impact that it has in the law enforcement field and research based forensic practice. The Bartol’s have crafted a book that is perfect for both undergraduate and graduate students that intend to pursue forensic psychology further.
  • Handbook of Psychology Vol 2 – Forensic Psychology by Goldstein and Weiner: This is a great book that has a lot of information about the theories and amazing developments that has taken place in the forensic psychology field. This handbook has information that was accumulated by international experts that were able to provide invaluable information about the nature of the field, ethical conflicts, methodology and expert witness testimony.
  • Offender Profiling Theory, Research and Practice: Jackson and Bekerian: This text sheds some much needed light on offender profiling. There are discussions in Jackson and Bekerian’s book about theoretical basis for approach, the pros and cons of using an operational setting and information about the investigative process.
  • Forensic Applications of the MMPI-2 by Yossef Ben-Porath et al: This book covers a wide array of the important reasons that the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the psychometric test. This book shows readers how to incorporate it into the forensic applications of psychology. It is written by a team of experts and covers areas like criminal responsibility, injury litigation, child custody evaluation, risk assessment and neuropsychological evaluation.

Check This Out…

We love a good movie break and boy do we ever have a treat for you today! YouTube did not let us done and offered up the gem of a video that is hanging out right below this section. It is presented by a forensic psychologist that currently works as Portland Community College. He really lays the whole profession out perfectly for us while providing a lot of really helpful information.

Give this video a quick watch and let us know what you think! You can stay right here and watch it with us. If you’d like to venture over to YouTube to watch, that’s totally cool too. Just click right here and we’ll send you on over there! We hope you enjoy it!

Sources and Recommended Reading

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