Clinical Forensic Psychology Education

Many students ask how they can become a forensic psychologist or work in some of the areas already mentioned. The answer to that question is as varied as the different tasks that a forensic psychologist may undertake. The one thing that is clear is that becoming a forensic psychologist involves going to graduate school, and working in these areas typically means obtaining a PhD or PsyD in psychology (Huss, 2001). Although obtaining a terminal master’s degree may allow you to conduct therapy and even conduct psychological evaluations in some states, in order to practice independently in many forensic contexts you need to obtain a doctorate degree in forensic psychology. However, there are numerous ways to become a practicing forensic psychologist.

The most straightforward path to becoming a forensic psychologist, but certainly not the only way, would be to gain admission to a doctoral program that specializes in training forensic psychologists. There are a variety of different training models for doctoral programs in forensic psychology (Huss, in press). Melton, Huss, and Tomkins (1999) identified three specific training models that each have their own advantages and disadvantages. First, joint-degree programs offer the opportunity for students to obtain degrees in both psychology and the law. These programs normally result in a student obtaining both a JD in law and a PhD or PsyD in psychology. However, it is not necessary or even preferred to obtain a degree in both the law and psychology to become a forensic psychologist (Melton et al., 1999). Another path to becoming a forensic psychologist involves attending a specialty program in forensic psychology. These programs typically offer a degree in clinical or counseling psychology, and offer additional opportunities for training specifically in forensic psychology. Students in these specialty programs take classes in forensic-related topics, participate in clinical practicae or internships at prisons or forensic hospitals, conduct forensic research, and may even take some law classes. The third type of program is a program that offers a minor in forensic psychology. Students in these programs get their primary training in clinical or counseling psychology but then may take a specialized class in forensic psychology, conduct their dissertation on a forensic-related topic, or even get some training in a forensic setting. However, students do not have to attend a specialized program that offers any forensic training. Most forensic psychologists simply obtained a degree in clinical or counseling psychology, and then obtained additional training in their postdoctoral internship or sought out workshops or other educational opportunities that allowed them to become more knowledgeable about forensic psychology after they graduated with their doctoral degree. It should be clear that there is not just one path to becoming a forensic psychologist.

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