Forensic psychologists delve in two intellectually and emotionally intense worlds: psychology and the law. To work in this field, you need more than just a doctorate in psychology. Although forensic psychologists work in areas from corrections to academia, they each need certain personal characteristics to help them effectively counsel, analyze and communicate.
Forensic psychologists rely on effective communication every day. If you work in corrections, for instance, you'll communicate with inmates, provide screenings and conduct therapy, crisis- and anger-management sessions and regular evaluations. These delicate tasks require a balance of effective personal and group communication, including strong listening and speaking skills and the ability to clearly express abstract emotional issues and draw effective communication from others. Forensic psychologists also use their communication skills to convey this information on paper, filing personality assessments, court-ordered evaluations and recommendations, for example. Strong writing and oral presentation skills help forensic psychologists clearly deliver their findings in professional, legal and academic environments.
Analysis and Observation
Forensic psychologists must not only analyze the results of their sessions with patients, they must be able to collect current psychological research, critically interpret their findings and draw logical conclusions from them. To analyze findings, forensic psychologists need keen observational skills. These skills apply during sessions, as psychologists interpret the body language of their patients, and during post-session research, as psychologists seek meaning in their findings.
As a forensic psychologist, you'll find yourself in office and administrative settings, but you'll likely frequent correctional facilities, rehab centers and police departments, too. Witnessing violent, disturbing and potentially traumatic events and even finding yourself an object of aggression sometimes comes with the territory. In addition to emotional stability, forensic psychologists need immense amounts of patience, as treatment often takes a long time and some patients suffer from behavioral or mental disorders. Likewise, these professionals deal with the burden of trust; psychologists keep the problems of their patients in absolute confidence.
Because this line of work sometimes puts you face to face with intense situations, the ability to think on your feet is crucial. If emotions escalate during a one-on-one inmate evaluation, for example, you must quickly assess and diffuse the situation. As scenarios ranging from jury selection to child custody resolution put you in contact with people from all walks of life, you'll also need a thorough understanding of current social and cultural issues. Additionally, forensic psychologists benefit from the ability to work autonomously and from a deep-seated curiosity and drive to continue learning.
- Psychology Today: What Is Forensic Psychology?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Psychologists: How to Become One
- Psychology Today: What's It Take to Become a Forensic Psychologist?
- ForensicPsychology.net: An Interview with H.D. Kirkpatrick
- ForensicPsychology.net: An Interview with Jason Doll
- Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images