How to become a forensic psychologist
What is forensic psychology?
Forensic psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. The word “forensic” comes from the Latin word 'forensis,' meaning 'of the forum,' where the law courts of ancient Rome were held. Today, forensic refers to the application of scientific principles and practices to the adversary process where especially knowledgeable scientists play a role (see American Board of Forensic Psychology: www.abfp.com).
The practice of forensic psychology includes, but is not limited to:
- Psychological evaluation and expert testimony regarding criminal forensic issues such as trial competency, criminal responsibility, battered woman syndrome, domestic violence, drug dependence, and sexual offending
- Testimony and evaluation regarding civil issues such as personal injury, child custody, professional malpractice, civil commitment and legal guardianship
- Assessment, treatment and consultation regarding individuals with a high risk for aggressive behavior in the community, in the workplace, in treatment settings and in correctional facilities
- Research, testimony and consultation on psychological issues impacting on the legal process, such as eyewitness testimony, children’s testimony, and repressed memories
- Specialized treatment service to individuals involved with the legal system
- Consultation to lawmakers about public policy issues with psychological implications
- Consultation and training to law enforcement, criminal justice and correctional systems, for instance with regard to interrogation of child witnesses
- Consultation and training to mental health systems and practitioners on forensic issues
- Policy and program development in the psychology and law arena
Certification as a forensic psychologist
There is no specific international standard for certification as a forensic psychologist. However, a number of Anglo-Saxon countries have board certification for forensic psychologists. The British Psychological Society (BPS) offers the Diploma in Forensic Psychology (Chartered Forensic Psychologist) which consists of two stages (see: www.bps.org.uk):
- Stage one provides the necessary underpinning knowledge: the student needs to follow a Society accredited MSc in Forensic Psychology.
- Stage two consists of supervised practice: the student needs to follow two years practical training under the supervision of a Chartered Forensic Psychologist.
In the USA and Canada, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) provides certification as a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology. For this certification students must meet the following criteria (see: www.abp.org):
- A doctoral degree from a program in professional psychology accredited by the APA or the CPA.
- A license as a psychologist for independent practice.
- At least 100 hours of formal education, direct supervision or continuing education in forensic psychology.
- At least 1000 hours of experience in forensic psychology obtained by (a) completion of a full-time [at least one year] formal postdoctoral training program in forensic psychology, approved by ABPP, or (b) practice over a minimum period of four post-doctoral years.
To our knowledge, there are at present no accredited academic programs in Forensic Psychology in Continental Europe. In The Netherlands, Maastricht University offers a 2-yr Master program in Forensic Psychology since September 2010. This new Master strives towards the integration of clinical and research skills throughout the program. During the first year, theoretical courses and practical skills trainings are offered in parallel. During the second year, both a clinical and a research internship prepare students for a career as a scientist-practitioner in the forensic field. The following aims are set for this 2-year Master program:
- To become a scientist-practitioner who is able to integrate scientific knowledge, skills and attitudes to conduct evidence-based practice in forensic assessment and forensic therapy.
- To establish a thorough academic understanding of the literature in the field of forensic psychology.
- To integrate knowledge from different fields of forensic psychology and other disciplines, such as law and ethics, to develop awareness and knowledge of multidisciplinarity in forensic work.
- To acquire the requisite knowledge and skills necessary for conducting independent academic research in forensic psychology.
In addition, Maastricht University has set the following objectives for her educational programs:
- To establish both an international curriculum and an international learning environment.
- To establish a close match with the labor market in forensic mental health services.
From the criteria used by the BPS and the ABPP it is clear that a combination of academic education and clinical training is needed to be able to work as a certified forensic psychologist. Taking this combination as a starting point, the master program in Forensic Psychology at Maastricht University cannot have a study load under 120 ECTS. With a study load of 120 ECTS, the program also meets the qualifications for the European Diploma in Psychology, which requires the successful completion of a nationally accredited academic curriculum in psychology, which has a duration equivalent to at least five years of full-time study. More information on this 2-yr Forensic Psychology Master program is available on the website: http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/fpn/masterforensicpsychology. This Master program is officially accredited by the Netherlands Flemish Accreditation Organization (NVAO).
Visit the Maastricht Univerity website and watch the video if you want to learn more about this internationally oriented Forensic Psychology Master's program: http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Faculties/.../ForensicPsychology.htm