Diplomates in forensic psychology are dually certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) and its parent organization, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), as experts in applying the science and profession of psychology to U.S. law and the U.S. legal system.
The certification process consists of four distinct phases: initial application, written examination, practice sample review, and oral examination. The applicant must possess a doctoral degree in psychology from a program acceptable to the ABPP. A program is automatically deemed acceptable if accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Canadian Psychological Association or if listed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). Acceptability is also presumed if the applicant holds the Certificate of Professional Qualification issued by the ASPPB or if the applicant is registered with the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology.
The applicant must have accumulated at least 1,000 hours of qualifying experience in forensic psychology over a minimum of 4 years of practice. An earned law degree may be substituted for 2 of these 4 years, and successful completion of a qualifying formal postdoctoral fellowship may be substituted for 3 of these 4 years, as long as the 1,000-hour experience requirement has been met. The applicant also must have received 100 hours of qualifying specialized training in forensic psychology. This training may consist of direct supervision by a qualified forensic professional, continuing education attendance, or relevant classroom activities at the graduate or postgraduate level.
The written examination consists of 200 multiple-choice questions that focus primarily on the following eight areas of forensic psychological research and practice: (1) ethics, guidelines, and professional issues; (2) law, precedents, court rules, and civil and criminal procedure; (3) testing and assessment, judgment and bias, and examination issues; (4) individual rights and liberties, civil competence; (5) juvenile, parenting, and family/matrimonial matters; (6) personal injury, civil damages, disability, and workers’ compensation; (7) criminal competence; and (8) criminal responsibility. The ABFP provides the applicant with a periodically updated reading list that identifies key legal cases, books, and book chapters for each topic area.
The applicant who passes the written examination is admitted to formal candidacy and is invited to submit two practice samples of his or her forensic psychological work. These practice samples must represent two distinct and separate areas of forensic endeavor; for example, one acceptable practice sample could address mental state at the time of the offense, while the other could address trial competency; however, it would not be acceptable for one practice sample to address parenting capacity involving a relocation issue if the other addressed parenting capacity involving allegations of sexual abuse. To ensure a sufficiently current professional review, the forensic work forming the basis of each practice sample must have been generated no more than 2 years prior to the date on which the candidate’s original application was accepted.
Typically, practice samples consist primarily of evaluative reports; however, with prior agreement of the ABFP, and for good cause, an alternative submission, solely authored by the candidate, may be substituted for one of the two practice samples. Examples of potentially acceptable alternative submissions include a forensic psychological book chapter, a forensic psychological article accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, a forensic psychological test manual, or a forensic psychological treatment program or treatment protocol. Practice samples are reviewed by an appointed faculty of Diplomates in Forensic Psychology. The purpose of this review is to ensure that the candidate possesses a high level of professional competence and maturity, with the ability to articulate a coherent rationale for his or her work in forensic psychology.
The submission of two acceptable practice samples qualifies the candidate to proceed to the oral examination, which is designed to determine the quality of his or her practice and forensic knowledge in areas exemplified by the practice samples as well as to determine the candidate’s understanding and application of ethical standards, in particular the current version of the APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct and the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, promulgated in part by the American Psychology-Law Society. The oral examination lasts for approximately 3 hours, conducted by a panel of three diplomates in forensic psychology. Panelists are instructed to bear in mind that one implication of their recommendation to award certification is that they would also feel comfortable in referring the candidate to persons soliciting the expertise in question. The panel’s recommendation is reviewed and voted on by the ABFP, after which the ABPP informs the candidate of the results.
Currently, there are approximately 240 diplomates in forensic psychology, serving in a wide variety of treatment, assessment, teaching, and research settings. All diplomates in forensic psychology are also designated as fellows of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology, a member organization that maintains an online directory and a Listserv on professional issues, operates a continuing education program in forensic psychology, and confers awards in recognition of outstanding professional contributions and promising graduate student research.
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- Dattilio, F. M., Sadoff, R. L., & Gutheil, T. G. (2003). Board certification in forensic psychiatry and psychology: Separating the chaff from the wheat. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 31, 5–19.
- Drogin, E. Y. (in press). Expert qualifications and credibility. In D. Faust & M. Ziskin (Eds.), Coping with psychiatric and psychological testimony (6th ed.). Los Angeles: Law & Psychology Press.
- Parry, J. W., & Drogin, E. Y. (2007). Mental disability law, evidence, and testimony: A comprehensive reference manual for lawyers, judges, and mental disability professionals. Washington, DC: American Bar Association.
Return to the overview of Forensic Psychology Education.