How to become a Forensic Psychologist
What does a Forensic Psychologist do?
Chartered Forensic Psychologists typically work to assess offenders and provide appropriate interventions (e.g. therapy) in prison settings or secure hospitals. They can also be asked to perform risk assesments through using a number of psychometric tools in order to asses whether an individual is safe to be released back into the community. Forensic Psychologists can also be called upon to give evidence as an expert witness in court. They typically work for the prison service, the police, the NHS or in higher academic institutions. Continued research and development of ones knoledge in the field is also an essential componant of the job role.
Essential Background Reading
I can personally recommend Forensic Psychology for Dummies. I read this book myself prior to starting my MSc and it was a great general introduction to all the relevant topics we have covered throughout the course.
One of the named authors of this book is particularly well respected in the field. I recently heard him speak at a conference in London and he has made some incredible contributions to the field, particularly with regard to police interviewing.
How do I know if I want to study this?
Deciding what to study at University and consequently what to do for your future career is a daunting and difficult task. The cost of a University education is sky rocketing recently which makes it even more important to make the correct choice. It is therefore advisable that you do as much research as you can into your chosen subject, University and potential future career as this will only help you to make an informed and good decision.
Forensic Psychology is a fascinating field to study and there is plenty of jobs available and the potential for much future growth. It has a future career path built into it, which you can follow all the way through untill you become chartered. This is helpfull as some degrees that are more academic and general do not guide you into any particular future career, which can be problematic for some students.
The best way to decide if Forensic Psychology is for you is to try and study a module in it during your undergraduate psychology degree, this way you can get a taste for what it is like. Another great way is to try and get actual hands on experience in the field. This can be very difficult but I will discuss options open to you further down.
Reading around the subject can help you to get a good understanding of what the subject is like to study at University and what kind of things you will be learning about. It is always advisble to do as much reading as you can around the subject area. Also the internet is a great repository of information and spending sometime googling the subject should bring up a wealth of information which can help you to decide if it is for you.
The first real step in becoming a Forensic Psychologist is to study for an undergraduate degree in Psychology, or a related discipline such as Psychology and Crimonology or Psychology and Criminal Justice.
The key thing to remember here is that the degree must be accredited by the British Psychological Society as providing you with the Graduate Basis for Registration. This is something you can check by emailing the course co-ordinator and asking them, or it may say on your University's website. If the undergraduate degree does not have this GBR then you will not be able to get a place on an accredited Masters course.
Most credible Masters courses require a 2:1 or usually a high 2:1 to ensure a place as competition is fierce. Your application for a place will be viewed higher if you can show evidence of relevant work experience, volunteering, charity work etc.
What if my undergrduate degree is NOT in Psychology? - You can still proceed to a Masters even if your undergraduate degree is not in a Psychology relted discipline but you will need to study for a conversion course to Psychology first. This course typically lasts one year studying full time, or two years part time and should cover the basics of Psychology and research methods. Again this course needs to be accredited by the BPS as providing GBR, and not all do, so please check first!
Masters Degree in Forensic Psychology
Now you have got your BSc you need to apply for a place on an accredited Masters (MSc) in Forensic Psychology or Investigative and Forensic Psychology. This course needs to be recognised by the BPS as providing the next stage in training. You can check this again through contacting the University directly or checking their website. The BSP should also have a list of accredited courses on their website.
Picking which University to study at now will need to be guided by where the best accredited courses are taught. You may need to be willing to move to go to the best institution.
Unfortunately once you have completed your MSc that still is not the end of the process, there is one final stage before you can achieve chartered Forensic Psychology status.
Stage 2 Training and Development
The final stage in getting chartered involves two years on the job supervision under a qualified Forensic Psychologist and the requirement of producing a portfolio which demonstrates learning nd knoledge in four key competancies. This work will usually need to be undertaken within a practical setting such as a prison or secure hospital as a portion of the work will require assesments, and as such access to clients is required.
This part of the process can be quite difficult and lengthy and often takes longer than the two years indicated by the BPS. It also costs addional money as membership fees to the BPS must be paid, and the four pieces of work which are done cost money to be graded. So it is worth baring in mind the additional cost associted with this stage of the training. It may be possible however to get a contribution from your employer towards the costs as they are likely to want to see you qualified too.
I have been informed that there is an alternative way of getting qualifed, and this involves studying for a Doctorate in Forensic Psychology which combines the Masters and the Stage 2 training allowing the recipient to become chartered immediatly upon graduation. This can however be very costly, so it will depend on your financial situation.