I began my forensic practice in 1975 as Chief Psychologist and later
Director of Clinical Services at the Human Resource Center of Douglas County
(Wisconsin). I did not originally plan on developing a forensic specialty--I
simply was the only doctoral level psychologist in a small community, and
found myself being called to the jail for emergencies, talking with attorneys
about disturbed clients, and increasingly testifying in court about the
mental status and treatment of clients. Since leaving the HRC and entering
teaching of psychology and management, I have continued a small private
practice in the specialty. In 1998 I received my diplomate status from
the American College of Forensic Examiners. The range of activities over
the years is representative of the richness and challenge which this field
offers. Highlights include the following:
Consulting with law enforcement administration on officer selection and
fitness for duty evaluations.
Designing comprehensive evaluation and performance appraisal systems for
law enforcement personnel.
Providing crisis intervention and critical incident debriefing for police
and other emergency personnel involved in crises.
Training local and federal officers in communication skills, conflict management,
defusing anger, team building, enforcement strategies, and supervisory
Conducting psychological evaluation and being an expert witness for the
Court regarding competency to stand trial, criminal resposibility, protective
placement, amenability to treatment, divorce custody, and personal injury.
Developing information management and program evaluation systems for offender
residential treatment and correction facilities.
Provide training and consultation on the effects of shiftwork in emergency
Dr. Jerry Henkel-Johnson and I (see e-mail at bottom) welcome inquiries
from interested students who are entertaining career possibilities in forensic
psychology, law enforcement, criminology, social work, and related fields.
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Forensic Web Sites of Interest
(sorry if there are some dead links; I'll eventually get to them...)
Assessment of Dangerousness
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Graduate Programs in Forensic
There area growing number of programs exclusively identified as"forensic
psychology" although there are several that have a multidisciplinary emphasis.
Many programs in Counseling and/or Clinical Psychology provide the training
necessary to quality as an "expert" and to specialize in forensic work.
It is an added benefit to have education and experience in working in criminal
justice settings or with related clients. The following list is suggested
as a starting point. If you find a program of interest, request a catalog,
discuss the program with the department chair, and talk over the curriculum
with students who are enrolled in it. At this point, we are not familiar
enough with all these programs to make recommendations, referrals, or give
details of what they involve--please don't ask us to do so. You
will need to do your homework by contacting them online (search
using their name), or reviewing them using Peterson's Guides or related
reviews (see below).
Internships & Field Placements
We also take the position that it is not necessary to enroll in a forensic
psychology program in order to practice in the area. In many ways, a broader
degree in clinical or counseling psychology will enable you to practice
widely, as well as develop expertise in some areas that will give you forensic
entry. Remember, it's not so much the degree, as your having established
expertise in some area related to the legal issues in question that makes
you valuable in the forensic community. Perhaps some of the more valuable
skills include psychological evaluation, treatment of offenders, and expert
opinion on personality. Don't feel constrained by not finding just the
right forensic program, when a broader program may give you greater flexibility.
A final caveat: if you are still in high school or just starting college,
no one can say exactly what this specialty will look like in a few years.
It may be wise to prepare yourself to practice in several areas.
Master's Level (These are not complete lists-- you should search
for additional programs not listed here)
The American Psychology Law Society Graduate Training Programs in Law
and Psychology brochure identifies three programs at the master's level:
This list of doctoral psychology programs that offer training in forensic
psychology is primarily from the text Psychology and the Law by Bartol
& Bartol (1994), and from the American Psychology Law Society brochure
on Graduate Training Programs in Law and Psychology.
California School of Professional
Florida State University
Florida International University
Queen's University, Kingston Ontario
State University, Huntsville TX
St. Louis University
State University of New York at Buffalo
University of Alabama
University of British Columbia
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Kansas
University of Nebraska at Lincoln
University of Kentucky
University of Nevada-Reno
University of Texas at El Paso
University of Virginia
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
City University of New York (Masters level)
The following programs associated with law schools in which you
will receive both a doctoral degree in psychology (PhD) and a law degree
(JD). These dual-degree programs take longer to complete than ones that
lead only to a single doctoral degree.
Medical College of Pennsylvania/Hahneman University
Northwestern University Psychology Department
University of Nebraska -Lincoln
University of Arizona
University of Hawaii
University of Minnesota
Other information on graduate programs and careers in psychology
can be found at:
Some other considerations in preparing for graduate school:
You will probably need to take the GRE or other graduate school admissions
test. You should at least purchase a test review books, and perhaps take
a prep course for the exam. Do this long enough ahead of time so you can
Be especially clear on your career goals, what you want to do, and how
you think a particular program can help you attain your goals.
If you have a spotty academic history, especially during your early years
of college, or low grades outside your major, be prepared to explain what
happened, how you are different, and possibly show additional evidence
of your scholarly ability.
If you have the opportunity to do research or publish with a professor
at the undergraduate level--do it!
Take time to complete an internship or volunteer experience in corrections
Join the Forensic Psych listserver or related listserver and gain a better
sense of the people and issues current in this field.
Attend conferences and workshops (they can be expensive), on topics of
interest to you in the field. Use these to network with new associates
and broaden your underrstanding of the field.
Give some thought to the full range of forensic practice in which you want
to work. If your sole interest lies in working with serial killers--think
again!; this area is too restricted for most programs and practitioners;
in spite of the media hype, there frankly aren't enough to go around.
It is currently NOT a requirement that you attend a forensic psychology
program in order to do forensic work. For example, a degree in clinical
or counseling psychology will enable you to work in the field depending
on the expertise you have based on education and experience, related
to the forensic area (e.g., psychological evaluation regarding pathology,
amenability to treatment, treatment of juvenile sex offenders, etc.). Check
Peterson's Guides for a listing of APA approved and other excellent counseling
and clinical programs. The webpage for the APA
also has a listing of traditional programs programs.
Information on Graduate Programs.
Please Note: I am not always current on the unique requirements
and offerings of specific programs in forensic psychology around the country
and will not make recommendations--
please don't ask me for this kind
of information! What you can do to choose a good program is to conduct
some research asking the following questions"
Accreditation: is the program APA approved? While this should not
be the ultimate criterion, it does ensure sound curriculum and faculty,
and helps with internship and licensure.
Faculty: does the program have good faculty? How many faculty? What
are their backgrounds and areas of specialization? Are they primarily academics
or do they have clinical forensic experience? How many faculty are there
and what are their advising loads? Do they have publications and presentations
in their forensic specialties? Are they members and officers of relevant
professional associations? When you contact them for more information do
they seem cordial and helpful?
Students: how do current and past students perceive the program?
Obtain from the department the names of current and recent grads. Aks them
how they viewed the faculty, curriculum, evaluation, mentoring, professional
opportunities, and aspects of student life at the university. What is the
placement rate and what types of jobs do grads obtain? What is their licensure
Curriculum: do the courses prepare you for what you want? Are there
sufficient courses in forensics as well as foundation courses? Is there
an opportunity to practice skills through practicum, field placement, or
internship? Is there time in the curriculum for you to integrate what you
learn or is the curriculum time pressured? Is the curriculum based on a
single theory or orientation or does it provide students with a variety?
Financial aid: what funding assistance is available to you? Ask
about grants, stipends, teaching and research assistantships, scholarships,
and part-time work opportunities.
Resources: check out Peterson's Guides to Graduate Studies, the
annual ranking of APA programs in the APA Monitor, and carefully examine
the Graduate Catalog of the program.
Another Note on Profiling: Profiling
has become popular as a result of several TV programs and movies, like
The Silence of the Lambs and Profiler. There is an equal interest in specializing
in serial killers. Frankly, there aren't enough serial killers running
around, or enough profiling jobs to make this much of a primary marketable
skill. Instead, focus on broader range skills at the master's level, and
perhaps more narrow specialization at the doctoral level. When I suggest
broad, I mean, for example, being able to conduct broad psychological evaluations,
not just regarding dangerousness. Fads will change and you should consider
a broader range of skills that will give you employment flexibility as
the marketplace changes.
Typical Courses in Forensic Psychology
There is currently no clear uniformity in programs that lead to specialization
in forensic psychology. The following include courses that are typical
of several programs in the field:
Forensic Psychology (overview)
Theories of Criminal Justice
Psychopathology & Adjustment
Child & Adolescent Psychology
Law & legal procedures
Psychological Evaluation Report
Trauma (PTSD, CISD)
Medical Psychology (meds & conditions)
Research Methods & Statistics
of Psychology and how to get there (suggestions for pursuing a
degree--hard to read)
There are two lines of thinking about internships. One suggests
that you should find a setting that is very similar to the setting
in which you wish to eventually practice. This would obviously help you
decide if this is what you want, would help you network with people in
that specialization, and give you entry experience. The other approach
is to gain experience in a variety of different settings, which would give
you a broader understanding of the field and provide greater flexibility
should you wish to change settings. I suspect that choice is also a function
of convenience for you, cost, reimbursement, relocation, etc. In any case,
you should ask the field placement supervisor as well as the setting director
what kinds of experiences you will have and what skills you will likely
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Professional Accrediting Associations
Who employs forensic psychologists?
Forensic psychologists may be self employed (if licensed as a psychologist
in the state) or by an agency. Long term employers and short term contractors
Federal, state, and local government and facilities such as prisons, jails,
police departments, corrections facilities, probation and parole, military,
Treatment facilities such as drug and chemical rehabilitation, and short
and long term residential facilities, counseling centers, mental hospitals,
Courts, attorneys, and legal advocacy groups
Self employed or group private practice and consultants
Colleges and universities that provide courses in psychology or criminal
Some additional job considerations:
In spite of the obvious excitement that this specialty offers to people,
there are many facets that you should be aware of before jumping into it.
Here are some other considerations.
You may be working with some potentially dangerous people in this field--are
you willing to deal with this stress? For example, during my doctoral internship,
two other interns were killed during a prison internship placement. In
later years my former office mate was shot to death in a college counseling
center while providing crisis intervention; several colleagues have been
stalked, physically assaulted, and harassed by disturbed clients. These
incidents are few and far between, but they are a risk. Can you and your
family handle this possibility?
If you plan to become an expert witness, you should be comfortable being
in the role of a person who might survive the Grand Inquisition in France.
While most of your instructors have dealt with you in a courteous and supportive
manner, when you are providing expert testimony, you will face confrontation,
attempts to discredit your testimony and expertise, and be asked questions
that make your doctoral comps look like elementary school. You will need
to prepare long hours, make a confident and logical presentation of complex
information, and be calm and professional.
In some cases there are no winners, everybody loses, and you must take
some responsibility for all of it. For example, protective placement of
an elder or child custody cases are often heart wrenching for everybody
concerned, but a decision on the placement of a person must still be made.
Will you be able to handle the emotional pressure of these cases?
In some cases involving expert testimony, you may be called on to testify
in the behalf of a client whose behavior you detest (e.g., child molester,
spouse abuser, etc.). Will you be able to present objective and balanced
information to the Court for a sound decision in spite of your feelings?
Some forensic work is tedious and boring. Unlike the continually stimulating
and exciting work of television stars in roles of forensic psychologists
(e.g., "Profiler" and "Silence of the Lambs"), there will be little opportunity
to work closely with "Hannibal Lector" types. Much of the work involves
updating yourself on the law, critically reviewing new research, meeting
with scores of people and trying to integrate disparate information into
a sound clinical picture, reading reams of reports and documents, role-playing
your testimony and having it picked apart, and sitting for hours waiting
for your testimony to be called. Forget the glitz of TV--this stuff is
So, if you haven't been discouraged yet, keep exploring this field.
I'm in it because I enjoy the opportunity to work with people who have
a very unusual view of the world and I get a chance to see how they put
that view together. Perhaps I can make a difference in such challenging
cases as child custody (although I admit I couldn't take a full case load
of such). I enjoy continuous learning, find the formulation of psychological
evaluations a bit like a mystery novel, and am intrigued with the strategy
of court testimony.
Some links to potential employers
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I have been frequently asked what the typical day is like for
a forensic psychologist, and I have a great deal of trouble answering that,
I suspect that the variety of skills that practitioners can use makes for
very different days for each of us. Nonetheless, here is a sample of what
might be a "typical" week (at least for me). This would likely be quite
different for other forensic psychologists.
|8:00 am- 11:00 Provide case consultation to youth residential treatment
staff on cases. Discuss diagnoses, assessment, & treatment plans
||8:00-9:00 prepare for court case. Review notes and reports.
||8:00-10:00 Go to jail to conduct sex offender's treatment group
||8:00-10:00 Attend "wrap-around" (multidisciplinary) team meeting for
coordinating community services
||8:00-10:00 Attend staff metting at mental health center for case consultations
and assessment referrals.
|11:00 am -Noon Meet with colleague and discuss recent research
project and manuscript for publication
||9:00-9:30 discuss court case and proposed testimony with attorney
||10:00-11:00 coffee with jail administrator to review cases and discuss
||10:00-12:00 Review cases at mental health center for Quality Assurance
||10:00-12:00 Meet with mental health center staff to help with research
project on moniroting treatment outcomes and program evaluation
|1:00-2:00 prepare program for later presentation to officer trainees
on the psychological evaluation component of the hiring process
||9:30-10:30 wait outside of court to be called as expert witness
||11:00-12:00 respond to mail, phone messages and e-mail.
||1:00-3:00 Present program to police officer on the psychological effects
||1:00-4:00 Consult at Day Treatment Program for juveniles. Review cases,
treatment plans, crises, and procedural issues.
|2:00-3:00 correspondence via phone, e-mail, mail on variety of topics
||10:30-12:00 Court testimony regarding
||1:00-1:30 discuss case with attorney regarding client's competency
to stand trial.
||3:00-4:00 discuss Fitness for Duty evaluations and procedures with
||4:00-5:00 Respond to messages.
|3:00-5:00 presentation to officer trainees
||1:00-5:00 Psychological evaluation. Administer personality and intelligence
tests to client. Phone contact with other sources of information
||1:30-5:00 Conduct competency evaluation at jail. Interview jailors,
review records, and interview and test inmate.
||4:00-5:00 Call federal prison to make arrangements for being on-call
over the weekend. Review cases.
||Weekend: Read journal articles and continue working on manuscript for
publication, while waiting for on-call
Books of Interest
There is a huge list of interesting books on forensic psychology that
may give you a clearer sense of what the field is about. Although there
are too many to list here (not knowing your interests exactly), you can
use the link below to go to Amazon.com online bookstore. Conduct a search
on "forensic psychology" and you can browse a list of several hundred
books with info on contents, price, and publisher. When you find the one
you're looking for, you can order it from Amazon.com or possibly through
Interlibrary loan at your college library.
Journals, Magazines, Newsletters
Just in case you are not familiar with listservers, they are discussion
forums for special interest groups. This list is moderated and you must
apply for membership, but there is no charge. For those who are considering
forensic psych as a career, you should contact the moderator to see whether
you might "lurk" awhile and get a sense of the topics and issues current
in forensic psychology. To submit a request, send e-mail with <subscribe
forensic-psych > in the body.
Discussion group on criminal profiling sponsored by corpus-delicti.com.
Send a message to <email@example.com> with the subject
Listserve discussion group for those interested in the relationship
between psychology and law. Send e-mail (or click link above): Listserv@utepvm.utep.edu
On the first line of your E-mail letter place the words: SUBSCRIBE PSYLAW-L
YOUR NAME HERE You will be automatically added to the list. An acknowledgement
will be sent to you.
Anyone can log on, so be cautious about disclosing personal information
as in any unmonitored chat room.
Based on the e-mail we receive, we try to frequently update this page.
If there is information that you believe should be added, dropped, or changed,
please let us know.
For comments or suggestions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org(David
X. Swenson, Ph.D.) or email@example.com(Gerald
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