The Study and Practice of Forensic Psychology: A Comprehensive Review:

Christopher Cronin, Ph.D.

Students frequently asked what degree is best for employment in the field of forensic psychology. The answer to this question depends on how one defines forensic psychology along with an individual's career goals. Although the type of degree is important with regards to obtaining a licensed to practice psychology, it is equally important to develop the specific skills needed to function as a forensic psychologist.

Defining Forensic Psychology:

Some authors use a very broad definition for forensic psychology, stating that it encompasses anything that has to do with psychology and the legal system. Others define forensic psychology within a more applied context. In 2001, the American Psychological Association formally recognized forensic psychology as a specialty within the profession. In the "Petition for the Recognition of a Specialty in Professional Psychology," forensic psychology is defined as the "professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, when they are engaged regularly as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system" (Heilbrun, 2000, p.6).

Specialized knowledge in forensic psychology is important in three areas. These are as follows: (1) clinical (e.g., diagnosis, treatment, psychological testing, prediction and intervention measurement, epidemiology of mental disorders, ethics), (2) forensic (e.g., response style, forensic ethics, tools and techniques for assessing symptoms and capacities relevant to legal questions) and (3) legal (e.g., knowledge of law and the legal system, knowledge of where and how to obtain relevant legal information).

Students interested in pursuing a career in forensic psychology are encouraged to become student affiliates of the APA and to join Division 41. The Careers and Training Committee of the American Psychology- Law Society also publishes a booklet titled, Careers in Psychology and the Law: A Guide for Prospective Students. Another book, Your Career in Psychology: Psychology and the Law (Kuther, 2004) also provides career information for students interested in psychology and law.


Heilbrun, K.S. (2000, July 20). Petition for the recognition of a specialty in professional psychology. Submitted on behalf of the American Board of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society to the American Psychological Association