The subject of forensic psychology conjures images of stylishly dressed, gun-toting scholars with incredible intuition and the ability to practically read the mind of a criminal. At least, that’s how it is in the movies.
Anyone who’s seen “Silence of the Lambs” or “Kiss the Girls” knows that a forensic psychologist can single-handedly take down a killer, right?
While a forensic psychologist may choose to be a snazzy dresser and may indeed have fantastic intuitive abilities, movies and reality bear very little similarity to one another.
Let’s debunk a few of the most common movie myths about forensic psychology:
- Forensic psychologists do criminal profiling. This is possibly the biggest myth about forensic psychology. Contrary to popular belief, criminal profiling is almost always done by law enforcement agents and not by forensic psychologists. Forensic psychologists do actually try to get inside a criminal’s head. However, they do this by determining a criminal’s competency to stand trial or how likely a criminal is to engage in future violent activity.
- Forensic psychologists work alone. This could not be further from the truth. Forensic psychologists work within the criminal justice system and consequently, work with criminals, victims and their families, judges and lawyers, jurors and law enforcement agents to name a few. Some forensic psychologists even operate their own private practices.
- Forensic psychologists carry guns. While this may be true in states that issue concealed carry permits, that is the personal choice of the individual forensic psychologist and not a job requirement. Side arms are not standard issue.
- Forensic psychologists often work at crime scenes. While forensic psychologists do often work in both courts and prisons, they are also often found in hospitals, government or community settings, or at mental health facilities. It is rare that a forensic psychologist will ever work at the crime scene itself.
- Forensic psychologists interrogate suspects and make arrests. Much like carrying a gun or working the crime scene, interrogation and arrests are the range of law enforcement agents – not forensic psychologists. However, for the sake of cinema, the job description of an average forensic psychologist is overly dramatized.
Education and Salary
While forensic psychology may not be as action-packed and glamorous as it’s made out to be in the movies, it is still an incredibly fascinating and rewarding career.
Getting your psychology degree online is a great way to get started on your career path.
There are many advantages to online education, including flexibility as well as the ability to go to school and work full-time simultaneously.
Many careers in psychology require a bachelor’s degree, but more commonly call for a master’s degree.
Forensic psychology degree holders have a wide range of career opportunities available to them.
Some of those opportunities include:
- Expert witness – Forensic psychologists are often called upon to testify in a variety of circumstances. In criminal trials, forensic psychologists can testify regarding the state of mind of a suspect. In cases such as custody hearings, forensic psychologists shed light on the emotional state of those involved and sometimes even help determine which parent gains custody of the child.
- Victim advocacy – Often crime survivors and their families and friends are assisted by forensic psychologists who can provide crisis intervention and other counseling services. Forensic psychologists may also offer legal advocacy and support throughout the legal process.
- Family therapist – Some forensic psychologists choose to work with families through both individual and group therapy.
The average forensic psychologist salary is fairly high for those with the proper level of education and experience. In May of 2012, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual wage of psychologists in the “all other” was $89,000 (this excluding clinical, school, industrial organizational and counseling psychologists). According to PayScale.com, the low end of a forensic psychologist’s income is a little over $20,000 a year (for those just beginning their careers) while the high end is in excess of $110,000 (experienced forensic psychologists).
Even if the real life of a forensic psychologist isn’t anything like the portrayal in the movies, there is still a good and satisfying living to be had for those who pursue this path.
About The Author
Contributing blogger Kate Crosse is a graduate forensic psychology student. When not studying, Kate enjoys reading true crime novels. Her passion for this genre of literature played significantly into her professional aspirations.