What is forensic psychology? If a fifteen-year-old boy is convicted of a heinous crime, should he be sentenced to an adult prison? And should an abusive parent ever regain custody of her children? Questions such as these occupy the minds of forensic psychologists. Forensic psychology involves applying psychology to the legal system. For example, forensic psychologists help determine whether a defendant is competent to stand trial, assess whether the accused was legally “sane” or “insane” at the time of the alleged offense, and make recommendations about sentencing and treatment options. What occupations are available? Forensic psychologists fill a variety of roles and work in a variety of settings. They are most commonly depicted as expert witnesses in jury trials, but some work as traditional clinical psychologists in correctional institutions, and others work from private offices as consultants for trial lawyers. Forensic psychologists also work in public policy centers where they help to design laws. What types of degrees prepare you for the field? Forensic psychologists have master’s degrees, PsyDs, or PhDs in psychology. Usually these degrees are in clinical psychology, but people trained in social psychology, neuropsychology, and other subfields may become forensic psychologists as well. Ideally, a forensic psychologist is formally trained in both psychology and law. An increasing number of graduate schools offer combined psychology/law programs that permit students to earn a psychology master’s or PhD and a J.D. more quickly than if each were pursued separately. Which schools offer training? Descriptions of several PhD and joint PhD/JD graduate programs are listed below. For further guidance, prospective students should visit the American Psychology-Law Society and the American Psychology Association’s page devoted to forensic psychology.
- The University of Arizona offers a joint JD/PhD graduate program entitled Psychology, Public Policy and Law. Four areas of concentration are available: Forensic Science and Practice; Violent and Criminal Behavior; Effects of Law and Legal Processes; and Improving the Law, Legal Systems and Legal Processes.
- The University of Denver has a two-year master’s program in forensic psychology. The main emphasis is law, but students are welcome to pursue a psychology PhD at the university upon completion of the master’s.
- The University of Illinois offers a minor in psychology and law to doctoral students in the following programs: Community and Prevention Research; Social Psychology; Clinical Psychology; Cognitive Psychology; and Behavioral Neuroscience.
- The University of Nebraska features several training options that combine legal studies and clinical psychology in a variety of proportions.
- The University of Nevada offers a Ph.D. program in social psychology that specializes in legal psychology. Emphasis is placed upon research and consultation.