The field of psychology has grown remarkably over the past century as the study and understanding of the human brain and associated behaviors has improved.

One role that has recently become popular is that of the forensic psychologist, largely in part to fictional movie and TV characters that portray the role.

But what is a forensic psychologist? What do forensic scientists do? Is the way they’re portrayed in popular fiction accurate or is the job a little less glamorous than many people would have you believe?

We’re going to look at what a traditional forensic psychologist job description would be and we’ll also look at some of the jobs done by forensic psychologists onscreen and whether this rolls over in to real life.

So What Is A Forensic Psychologist?

The short answer to this is that a forensic psychologist is a certified psychologist who devotes their efforts to applying their skills and training within the legal environment.

On screen this is often depicted in the role of the criminal profiler who uses their knowledge of psychology to assess crime scenes and make predictions about potential personality and character traits and future behaviors of the perpetrator.

And while there are professionals out there who undertake this task, it doesn’t make up the bulk of the work carried out by forensic psychologists.

What Does A Forensic Psychologist Do?

In truth, much of the work done by the forensic psychologist revolves around the legal system, as opposed to the crime scenes.

There are many different jobs done by forensic psychologists that help the courts and juries arrive at the appropriate verdict and sentence for civil, criminal and family matters.

Listed below are a number of these jobs.

Assess The Mental State Of Defendants

One of the most well known forensic psychologist jobs is to determine the mental state of a defendant.

In some cases this will be an assessment about their mental state when they committed the crime to help determine whether an insanity plea is valid or if a homicide should be treated as murder or manslaughter based on the motivations of the defendant at the time they committed the act.

They will also be called on to make a judgement about the capacity of the defendant to stand trial. If a person is incapable of understanding the legal proceedings being brought against them, the trial cannot go ahead until this has been sorted.

In terms of sentencing, one important aspect is whether a felon is likely to commit a crime again, and this is also something that will also rely partly upon testimony provided by forensic psychologists based on their assessment of the person in questions.

Jury Selection

In criminal cases where the composition of the jury can have a significant effect on the outcome of the cases, a forensic psychologist might be used by one or both sides of the case to help in the jury selection process.

The aim here is to try and identify people who may potentially have a prejudice for or against the defendant in some way that will lead to a bias in their vote on the jury.

Custody Battles

With divorce rates now at their highest ever levels, custody battles have become a large part of the legal system.

In terms of being granted custody of children a person must be able to show they are fit to raise their children, and often times a forensic psychologist may be called upon to help in the assessment of one or both sides of the arrangement.

Forensic Psychologist Summary

While these are not all of the jobs done by a forensic psychologist, they are definitely some of the more common ones.

If you are thinking about becoming a forensic psychologist, then it’s important for you to know that much of the work is far from the crime solving, criminal profiling that you see on T.V

But the work can definitely be interesting, and there are different fields withing forensic psychology that you can specialize in and which can definitely make you a very nice living.


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