Forensic psychology is a very exciting field of work. It’s a growing field, too. This means that there is a significant upside to becoming a forensic psychologist.
In fact, there are many more reasons why you might consider a specialization in forensic psychology. However, like any career, there are some downsides to think about as well.
While there are many different opportunities for employment in this field, it can be quite a stressful job. Additionally, you might find that your work requires you to be away or at the office on nights and weekends, which might not be ideal.
There’s a balance of positives and negatives of being a forensic psychologist, to be sure. Let’s have a look at some of the most significant pros and cons of being a forensic psychologist.
Advantages to Consider
First, we’ll discuss the positive points of having a career in forensic psychology.
It is important to note that this is not a complete list of all the pros you might experience working in this field. Instead, this is just a sampling of the good features of a job like this.
Many Different Career Paths
As briefly noted earlier, there are many different employment opportunities in the field of forensic psychology. These opportunities are widely varied, too, so you can pursue many different work experiences.
For example, some forensic psychologists work in the field of research, conducting experiments, testing hypotheses, doing meta-analyses of existing research, and reporting on their findings. This is a very different experience than a forensic psychologist that works with law enforcement as a criminal profiler.
These are but two examples, but you get the point. While forensic psychology is a specialty within the field of psychology, its application can be made far and wide.
You Don’t Need an Undergraduate Degree in Psychology
If you want to become a forensic psychologist, but you didn’t major in psychology for your undergraduate degree, you can still pursue your dream.
Many graduate programs in forensic psychology allow students admission if they have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, social work, or pre-law, to name just a few. While you might need to complete some psychology prerequisites before beginning your advanced degree, you won’t have to start over!
Opportunities for Growth
Once you complete your studies in forensic psychology, the opportunities for learning and growing as a professional certainly aren’t over.
For example, the American Board of Forensic Psychology offers board certification that is seen by many as the gold standard of professional competence in this field.
Likewise, there are always opportunities to learn from colleagues in the field who specialize in a different area than you do. That collegiality is a fantastic bonus of working in forensic psychology.
Forensic psychology can be very exciting work. This is true whether you work with law enforcement, in private practice, as a consultant, or something in between.
Each day you work in this field is an opportunity to learn something new, have different experiences, and take advantage of opportunities to make a positive impact on someone’s life. As such, many forensic psychologists find that this is a very exciting and very satisfying line of work.
It Can Be Challenging
Related to the previous point is that this is a job that can be a challenge – and many people find that to be a good thing.
For many forensic psychologists, this is not a desk job that bores you to death as the day drags on. Instead, there are often challenges at every turn – problems to solve, issues to analyze, and opportunities to help others.
But forensic psychology involves much in the way of research, investigation, and problem-solving. These challenges will help keep you on your toes and will keep your job one that can be quite exciting.
You Don’t Have to Worry About Insurance
For some psychologists – like clinical psychologists or counseling psychologists – part of the job is working with insurance companies to get reimbursements for your services. And while some forensic psychologists might have to take on this task, many do not.
While it might seem trivial, this is a very important benefit of this job. Insurance paperwork can consume much of your time – time that you can’t spend working! The less red tape you have to deal with, the more time you will have to enjoy your line of work.
Decent Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in psychology will grow by 8 percent through 2030. While this isn’t a terribly fast rate, it still represents roughly average growth for the foreseeable future.
As such, when you enter this line of work, it’s reasonable to assume that you will be able to find employment relatively quickly. This, of course, goes back to the earlier point that there are many, many different avenues you can pursue in forensic psychology, so there might be more job opportunities for you to pursue.
Good Income Potential
Another factor that makes forensic psychology an attractive job is the potential to earn a good living.
The BLS reports that the median annual salary for psychologists is $82,180. The pay range extends from a low of about $46,000 per year up to a high of more than $137,000 per year.
Naturally, what you make as a forensic psychologist is determined by many factors, not the least of which is your level of education and experience. But as you get more on-the-job experience, pursue higher degrees and certifications, and develop a specialty, you might find yourself on the upper end of that pay range sooner rather than later.
Disadvantages to Consider
For every advantage there is to working in forensic psychology, there is a disadvantage of which you should be aware.
Just as before, the list below is not exhaustive of all the cons you should think about with this career. Instead, these are some of the most common complaints about working as a forensic psychologist.
Relatively High Educational Threshold
In most cases, working as a forensic psychologist requires that you have an advanced degree. In some cases, a master’s degree will suffice. But in some specializations (e.g., working as a college professor in forensic psychology), you will need a Ph.D.
Getting a Ph.D. takes a long time – perhaps as much as five years after you finish your master’s degree. With the expense of college so high, this can be a significant barrier.
Supplementary Skills Take Time to Develop
Forensic psychologists must be excellent writers, good public speakers, and adept at solving problems.
Likewise, they must be able to work independently and with a team, meet deadlines, and work well under pressure.
While these skills can be developed in part during your educational training, it can take years to become fully competent in these areas.
High Potential for Stress
While some workers enjoy a challenge, sometimes the challenges can mount up, causing a lot of stress. This is certainly a possibility in this line of work.
For example, if you work within the court system, preparing for a case with an attorney can be fraught with tasks. The overwhelming amount of work and the emotionally-charged type of cases that forensic psychologists are often involved with can cause quite a lot of stress.
The Details of Your Cases Might Haunt You
Sometimes, forensic psychologists have to work on very difficult cases. The caseload might involve murder, abuse, and violence of other sorts. You might have to interview victims of crimes and perpetrators of crimes as well, and the details you learn can be unsettling.
In addition to the potential for this to be a highly stressful job, you must also consider the emotional toll it might take on you.
Jobs Might Be Scarce in Some Locations
If you live in an urban area, you might find that the demand for forensic psychology services is quite high. But if you live in a rural area, the opposite might be true.
If you want to live in a lesser-populated area, be prepared for the possibility that there are fewer jobs in this field – and that you might have to travel further to provide your services to clients.
Potentially Long Work Days
While this isn’t a typical 9-5 job – which is seen as an advantage for many people – it means that you might work unusual hours. This might include late nights, working on the weekends, or on holidays.
These extended hours are most frequently seen for forensic psychologists that work as jury consultants, victim’s advocates, and police consultants. When trials are coming up, the amount of work that needs to be done often increases, leading to long days of work for weeks or months at a time.
There’s a Ton of Paperwork
You might not have to deal with insurance reimbursements, but you will have to do a lot of paperwork as a forensic psychologist. And this is true of just about every career path in this field.
Whether you have to take field notes, summarize your findings for a court proceeding, or prepare notes for a client, you will be at a computer typing quite often as a forensic psychologist!
Higher Pay May Take Time
As noted earlier, the income potential for forensic psychology is pretty high. But the downside of that is that you will have to work in the field for some time before you realize those higher income levels.
This isn’t to say that you will have to work for like 15 years before you see higher-than-average incomes. But the first five or so years of your career may be at the lower end of the pay range.