Forensic Psychology: Mental Health Assesment and the Law
The field of forensic psychology is the application of psychological assessment used in a criminal justice setting. In other words, forensic psychologists work to determine the state of mind of a defendant leading up to, during, and after the crime is committed, whether or not a person is lying, and helps to lay the groundwork for effective interview techniques used by law enforcement. Perhaps the most glamorous application of the science is its use in criminal profiling for serial murder and child abduction cases. Since the success of police procedurals on television there has been a distinct rise in the number of students seeking a forensic psychology degree.
The Basics of the Profession
Forensic psychology differs from therapeutic psychology in that the forensic application is not concerned with the long-term effects of the mental state of the individual. The therapeutic branch of psychology is dedicated to assessing and then assisting with the rehabilitation of the patient’s mental health, although some psychologists feel that those professionals working with inmates either within the prison system or on parole are also forensic practitioners.
The path to obtaining a forensic psychology degree begins with completing an undergraduate degree, normally in psychology. Once a four-year degree is in hand, the next step is to enter into graduate program for the forensic specialization. The majority of forensic psychology degrees are granted at the Ph.D. level and take on average 4-5 years to complete.
Licensure as a psychologist is required to practice psychology in the U.S., Canada, and throughout Europe. In addition to passing an exam the psychology student must also complete a 1-2 year internship in a clinical setting. Once the professional registration process is completed, licensed psychologists may then pursue work in a variety of applications including criminal behavior expert.
Students who enter into a Master’s level degree program cannot be licensed as a psychologist but can become licensed professional counselors, mental health counselors, or clinical social workers.