Forensic psychology is a type of psychology that deals with the law. Psychologists look at why criminals act in the way they do, what type of sentencing a criminal deserves and if offenders will act out again. While television shows and movies make these jobs look fun and exciting, these men and women risk their lives every day. Some psychologists spend a lot of time working in jails and prisons, while others work with clients and attorneys. No two forensic psychologists will ever have the same day. Instead of looking at an average day in their lives, look at what different psychologists do on a normal day.
Evaluating criminals is one of the main goals of a forensic psychologist. Prior to a criminal taking the stand, his or her lawyer might request a competency hearing. The court will order a psychologist to evaluate the criminal and determine if that individual can stand trial. In addition to evaluating criminals, some psychologists work with children and families. During a divorce or custody hearing, the psychologist will meet with all parties involved, find out what the parents and children want and determine a custody arrangement.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists make a median salary of more than $33 an hour or more than $69,000 a year. Some of those working in the field work directly with courts and lawyers to determine sentencing guidelines. The court will often ask a psychologist for help deciding how to best punish a criminal. You might look at a first-time offender in a different way than you would a repeat offender. A first-time offender might benefit from psychological counseling or admittance to a drug or alcohol treatment center instead of serving time in jail.
Look at Offenders
Forensic psychology programs teach students how to research topics and gather data to make informed decisions. Some psychologists work with jails, prisons and correctional departments to research why criminals behave in certain ways. You might conduct a study that looks at how drug or alcohol use can affect a person’s decision making skills, or you might research how childhood sexual abuse can affect criminal actions. Forensic psychologists also look at criminals and determine the likelihood that certain people will offend again in the future based on past behavior.
Testify in Court
Many forensic psychologists testify in a court of law on a regular basis. During custody hearings and divorce proceedings, they testify as to the behaviors that they witnessed and why they believe that a shared custody or full custody agreement should go through. When you testify in court, you must have proof to back up any claims that you make. This might mean that you record the meetings you had with clients, present your notes or talk about your meetings. The court will typically ask you about your background, training and education and ask you to explain what makes you an expert in the field.
The popularity of films and television shows led to a large number of students to enroll in new psychology programs. Forensic psychology programs will show you what you can expect to happen when you begin working in the field.