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How to become a forensic psychologist

To become a forensic psychologist, you'll need an undergraduate honours degree in Psychology to gain access to Forensic Psychology training.

What is a forensic psychologist?

Forensic psychologists work with the psychological aspects of criminal investigation, legal process and offending behaviour. They treat people who have committed offences and apply psychological methods to reduce the impact of criminality and future reoffending.

Starting your career as forensic psychologist

Choosing subjects at school

To become a forensic psychologist, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • Psychology
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies
  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Maths

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

College and university

Forensic psychology is studied at postgraduate level, this means that you will need an undergraduate honours degree in psychology to gain access to clinical psychology training.

Accessing a psychology degree

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.

At college, you could do a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND) to set you on the right path. These include:

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Accessing forensic psychology training

You’ll need to complete a postgraduate degree in forensic psychology approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Then you’ll need to complete one of the following:

  • a minimum of three years of evidence-supervised practice where you can provide evidence of applying psychology appropriately in forensic practice
  • an HCPC-accredited doctoral programme that includes practice placements and a third-year research thesis

Experience is essential when applying to forensic psychology programmes. This can be paid or voluntary and preference is given to those with experience of working in a forensic setting such as within prisons, probation services or a youth offending service.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

Forensic psychologists work in the treatment of offenders in a range of areas including:

  • sexual offending
  • violence and aggression
  • interpersonal and social skills
  • intervention to help stop illicit drug and alcohol use

As a forensic psychologist, you’ll offer treatment for those who have committed to offences to reduce the impact of their experiences and to reduce chances of reoffending.

Tasks include:

  • implementing treatment programmes
  • reducing stress for staff and offenders in secure settings
  • providing research evidence to support psychological practice with offenders
  • undertaking statistical analysis for prisoner profiling
  • giving expert evidence in court
  • advising parole boards and mental health tribunals
  • crime analysis

You’ll need these skills:

  • sensitivity
  • excellent communication skills
  • active listening
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • persuasion
  • planning
  • teamwork
  • relationship-building

You’ll work with a range of people, including:

  • those who have chronic difficulties
  • those at risk of offending as a consequence of their behaviour
  • family members
  • victims
  • members of the public affected by crime

Whilst forensic psychologists usually treat adults, some specialised forensic psychologists work with young offenders, and the youth justice system.

The largest single employer of forensic psychologists in the UK is HM Prison Service, although forensic psychologists are also employed by:

  • secure hospitals
  • social services
  • offender management services, including the Police and probation services
  • academic departments

Learning and development

Once you have qualified, there are a wide range of opportunities. You could apply for more senior positions, for example consultant psychologist or head of a psychology service. You could contribute to the development of the profession through research work and teaching.

Professional bodies

British Psychological Society (BPS)

The BPS is the professional body for psychologists in the UK. They offer 3 levels of membership:

  1. Student membership is open to everyone studying on a BPS accredited undergraduate degree or conversion course.
  2. Graduate membership of the society is the starting point to your career as a psychologist. It is a prerequisite for many accredited post-graduate and doctoral programmes.
  3. Chartered membership reflects the highest level of psychological knowledge and expertise.

Find out more on the BPS website.

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological and, in England, social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education.

Find out more on the HCPC website.

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