By Vern Marker
Special Contributor to PoliceOne
Many police officers want to continue in public safety in some capacity upon retirement, and there are plenty of career paths which enable officers to enjoy a set of challenges while also staying active in the police profession. Some become instructors, some become use-of-force expert witnesses, while still others obtain a law degree and prosecute criminals. One of the paths less travelled — and yet, potentially just as rewarding — is that of forensic psychology.
Forensic psychology is where the disciplines of psychology and law enforcement meet. Forensic psychologists use their skills in a way that is both clinical and forensic in nature. In other words, while a criminal forensic psychologist is treating a patient, he or she is also working to understand the extent of the psychological damage the patient is experiencing to determine what led to their criminal acts, what the chances are of them committing the same acts again in the future, and so forth.
The field of forensic psychology is one that’s filled with excitement. Forensic psychologists feel the reward of not only giving back to their patients, but giving back to the community, by helping to make the world a safer place with their expert analysis.
Getting a Forensic Psychology Degree
Not surprisingly, the field of forensic psychology has started to really heat up lately. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, career employment for forensic psychologists is expected to grow at a faster than average rate — around 15 percent growth through 2016. It’s one of the fastest growing fields in all of psychology.
If you’re thinking about getting a degree in forensic psychology, one of the most important things you can do is to choose the best university. Ideally, you want to choose a university that is renowned for its psychology department. Even better, choose a university that specializes only in offering psychology programs.
You should also look for a school that offers courses in an online or online-blended format. This typically allows you to complete the courses at an accelerated pace, at your own convenience. It’s especially helpful if you plan on working while going to school as online classes are well-suited to accommodate the needs of employed people.
Of course, not all forensic psychology degrees are the same. The job prospects will be best for those who hold a master’s degree or doctoral degree. With these degrees, you have more opportunities, and of course, the job opportunities are advanced and higher paying.
If you choose only to get a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology, you can still find jobs in a range of professional settings. However, your job options will be a little more limited, and the pay will be lower than if you held an advanced degree.
Careers for Forensic Psychologists
You have a basic idea of what forensic psychology is all about, but what are some of the careers a forensic psychologist can enjoy?
• Victim advocacy and work with criminal prosecution
• Jury consultants within the court system
• Forensic psychology expert witness in cases
• Work with victimized or at-risk populations
• Scientific research into criminal behaviors
Of course, it could be argued that the cream of the crop in forensic psychologists work with the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit, but there are also myriad opportunities to contribute as forensic psychologists to the efforts of state and local police agencies after you retire from being an active-duty police officer. You might even be able to work for your same agency, depending on what the circumstances might be with your municipality’s needs ...and budget constraints.
A career in forensic psychology has numerous benefits:
• Enjoy the opportunity to truly help others
• Work in a range of professional settings
• Every day is a unique challenge
Finally, it’s worth noting that even an undergraduate degree in forensic psychology will enable a patrol officer to perceive more and understand better every contact with a suspect. In essence that contact is all about draining the brain of the subject, gleaning all you can from the contact. With the training you get in forensic psychology, you will have an enhanced level of understanding that can only help in your criminal interdiction efforts.
The possibilities are endless, but one thing is certain — as a forensic psychologist, you’ll never be bored. It’s a challenging career, but it’s certainly full of rewards.
About Vern Marker
Vern Marker is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. While he does not yet practice forensic psychology, Vern holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology and is in the process of selecting the right institution from which he might obtain his post-graduate degree in forensic psychology.