A forensic psychologist is an expert witness who is called on to testify
about a defendant's behavior. Using interviews, psychological evidence and
the person's background, the psychologist will give their opinion on the mental
state and behaviors of the accused.
Forensic psychologists also work on cases involving child abuse, domestic
violence and psychopathic disorders. This type of psychologist can also create
criminal profiles of suspects based on crime scene evidence and provide direction
for the interrogations of suspects, as well as offer expert testimony in court
about a person's mental health.
"The amount of time you spend in the courtroom depends of the kind of work
you do," says Bruce Danto, a forensic psychology professor at National University
in San Diego. "Child custody and personal injury cases are often settled out
of court. If you work in homicides, you'll be in court a lot."
In a nutshell, forensic psychologists work in many areas of the justice
system. The title forensic means "having to do with the law." A psychologist
studies human behavior and mental processes to understand, explain or even
change people's behavior.
A specialized branch of forensic psychology is called forensic neuropsychology.
In addition to studying mental processes, neuropsychologists also perform
tests to see if a person has organic brain damage.
A forensic psychologist's workday depends on where they practice. "I work
in a forensic hospital, and so I work 40 hours per week," says Kathy Ronan
in Alabama. She spends extra time in court. Psychologists who run their own
practices are free to work as few or as many hours as they wish.
Psychology isn't a physically demanding profession. However, some areas
of forensic psychology can on rare occasions be dangerous. "You take a risk
if you're profiling stalkers -- like I do," says Danto. "You are creating
problems for these people, so on occasion, they will come after you."
Physically challenged people should be able to find a niche in this profession.
However, one difficulty may be accommodating travel.
Forensic psychology is a demanding job. Because psychologists work with
people who are traumatized or mentally ill, the job can be stressful. "Sometimes
the people you're working with have a tendency to distort and misinterpret
what is going on around them, and that can be stressful," says forensic psychologist
Stuart Clayman. "After talking to these people all day, I often go home feeling
"You have to explore whether or not you can put aside your own emotions
and be objective," advises Ronan. If you're the type of person who will get
personally involved in a lot of issues, consider a different career.
Before deciding on forensic psychology, you should also think about whether
you're willing to go to court. "Some people find it stressful," says Ronan.
"One thing you have to realize is that one side will always be against you."
Although this job can have potential stress points, if you're like Ronan,
you will thrive on the fascinating cases that you will be called to work on.
Stress is only high if you are ill-prepared for trial. Forensic psychologists
get to meet fascinating people, and try to make sense of confusing information.
"It's very rewarding," says Ronan.
Forensic psychiatrists, like forensic psychologists, study a person's mental
processes. However, a forensic psychiatrist performs additional duties. "Psychiatrists
are trained to deal with the medical side as well," says Danto. "For example,
understanding the medical side, they can better understand the impact of a
Forensic psychologists can work for government departments, in prisons,
at hospitals and can even own their own private clinics.
Be a psychologist working in the legal system
Watch a one-minute video showing what it's like to work in this career or related careers
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists
Note: This movie requires QuickTime.