As experts in identifying false confessions and determining criminal intent, sanity and competency to stand trial, forensic psychologists have become a vital part of the judicial process for both civil and criminal matters.
In one recent homicide case in California, accused killer Mark Andrews of Atascadero was found to be insane at the time he committed murder based on the expert opinion of two mental health professionals. But the prosecution didn’t stop there, enlisting the help of forensic psychologist, Brandi Mathews, who provided expert testimony to the contrary. After subjecting the accused killer to extensive interviews, Mathews ultimately concluded that he was, in fact, sane at the time of the killing and fit to stand trial.
Although the two mental health experts pointed to Andrews’s mental illness and his testimony about hearing the voice of God telling him to kill vampires, Mathews had strong reason to believe he was still aware of what he was doing at the time of the killing. Her expert testimony highlighted the fact that individuals who believe they hear the voice of God don’t typically try to hide their actions as Andrews did. Instead they believe they are totally justified in their actions and make no attempt to cover up the crime.
Based on Mathews’s expert opinion, the jury decided Andrews was guilty of murder, despite his mental illness.
Steps to Become a Forensic Psychologist in California
As a forensic psychologist you would have the opportunity to serve California’s state and municipal court systems as an expert witness, provide criminal risk assessments and even assist law enforcement in profiling criminal suspects. Establishing an independent practice would allow you to work on a contract basis providing forensic psychological consultation services that could include:
- Forensic Criminal Assessment
- Forensic Civil Assessment
- Brain Injury Assessment
- Competency to Execute Wills
- Family Law Assessment
- Effects of Physical and Psychological Trauma
- Military Assessments
To become a forensic psychologist in California, you will first need to be licensed as a clinical psychologist with the California Board of Psychology.
Follow this guide for step-by-step guidance on how to become a forensic psychologist in California:
Step 1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program in General or Forensic Psychology
In order to work as a licensed forensic psychologist in California, you must earn a qualifying doctorate degree.
Forensic psychology degree programs—from the bachelor’s to the doctoral level—all consist of interdisciplinary courses and practicum that prepare you to provide critical, psychological services within the criminal justice system.
Your forensic psychology education will begin with earning a bachelor’s degree in general psychology or forensic psychology. Schools in California make these programs available on-campus, online, or in blended formats that include both conventional classroom based instruction and online coursework.
Undergraduate degrees available through colleges in California include, but are not limited to:
- Bachelor of Science or Arts in Psychology
- Bachelor of Science or Arts in Forensic Psychology
- Baccalaureate/Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
A baccalaureate degree will include around 125 credits in general education courses, core courses, electives, and internships.
For example, core courses for the forensic psychology baccalaureate degree programs will include courses such as:
- Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Psychology and the Law
Once you complete your baccalaureate degree in forensic psychology, you can choose to either move into a master’s degree program, or move directly into a doctoral program that includes graduate-level bridge courses.
Step 2. Complete Graduate and Post-Graduate Education Leading to a PhD in Psychology or a PsyD
If you choose to move directly into a master’s program, you will have the option to select between a Master of Science or a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology.
These programs generally include between 35-52 units of coursework, along with a hands-on practicum component.
Although requirements differ by school, common admission criteria for these programs incldue:
- Submit a statement of career goals
- Submit three letters of recommendation
- Submit official transcripts
- Submit official GRE scores
- Must have a baccalaureate degree in psychology
- Must have a 3.0 GPA
A master’s program will generally consist of:
- Prerequisite courses
- Departmental core requirements
- Required courses
- Electives in psychology/criminal justice
Core forensic psychology courses often include:
- Psychology and the Law
- Individual Testing and Case Study
- Administration of Justice
Doctorate Degree in Forensic Psychology
When enrolling in a doctoral degree program in California, you will choose from degree titles such as these:
- PhD in Forensic Psychology
- PsyD in Forensic Psychology
- PhD in Clinical Psychology with Forensic Specialization
- PsyD with Forensic Psychology emphasis
- PsyD in Clinical Forensic Psychology
These programs generally include around 100 credits, which take 4-5 years of full-time study to complete. With a PhD in psychology or PsyD, you will be prepared to sit for the national clinical psychology licensure exam and apply for a clinical psychology license with the California Board of Psychology.
When applying to a doctoral program, you would be expected to meet minimum admissions criteria, which could include:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree (preferably in psychology)
- Earn a “C” or better in at least 18 credit hours of psychology, including abnormal psychology and statistics
- Submit a sample essay
- Submit official transcripts
- Submit three letters of recommendation
- Submit official GRE scores
Courses include, but are not limited to:
- Family Systems and Family Treatment
- Group Process of Therapy
- Diversity in Forensic Psychology
Finally, the California Board of Psychology requires that you take:
- At least 10 hours of human sexuality training, including the physiological-psychological and social-cultural variables associated with sexual identity, behavior, and disorders
- 7 instructional hours of child abuse coursework
- Coursework concerning the detection and treatment of alcohol and other chemical substance dependencies
- 15 hours of spousal or partner abuse coursework
- Aging and long-term care coursework
You will need to provide the Board with documentation of these training hours. If these courses are not offered in your educational program, you can take the course online.
Step 3. Complete 3000 hours of Supervised Professional Experience
Along with earning a doctorate degree in forensic psychology, you will need to accumulate at least 3000 hours of supervised professional experience in order to be eligible for a California clinical psychology license.
The California Board of Psychology offer sample plans for supervised professional experience that may help guide your own, unique plan.
You should work to accumulate your internship hours at locations where forensic psychology is practiced, which may include:
- Rape crisis center
- Department of Children and Family Services counseling center
- Dependency Courts
- Sheriff’s Department
- State and local prisons
Step 4. Submit Application for Licensure to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology
After you complete your education and internship, you are ready to apply for both the required examinations and your California psychology license.
You will submit one application for both your exams and your license, using the Application for Licensure to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and the California Psychology Supplemental Examination (CPSE).
Before you apply, read through the California Board of Psychology’s Code of Regulations. Once you’ve thoroughly read the booklet, you may complete and submit your application.
To apply, use the California Board of Psychology’s online application instructions to:
- Submit an online application
- Submit official transcripts
- Submit supervision agreement and verification of experience forms
- Submit fingerprint scan form
- Application fee of $40.00
Finally, if you have committed a crime, you will need to submit the conviction/license disciplinary action form, which will allow the Board to assess your eligibility for a license.
All non-electronic forms can be sent to the California Board at:
Board of Psychology
1625 North Market Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95834
Once the Board reviews your application, you will either be declined—and the Board will request further documentation—or you will be approved and allowed to sit for the examinations.
Step 5. Take Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
You may be approved to take this examination before you’ve completed the full 3000 internship hours, since the California Board only requires that you have completed 1500 hours of supervised professional experience to apply.
To take this exam, you will schedule directly with Pearson VUE and pay:
- An exam fee of $600
- A computer-based testing fee of $79.58
You will then be able to take the exam at any California test center, including those located in the following cities:
- Santa Maria
- Daly City
- San Francisco
You may receive a waiver for the EPPP only if:
- You have been a licensed psychologist in another state for at least five years
- You possess a Certificate of Professional Qualification (CPQ)
- You’re a licensed psychologists credentialed as a Health Service Provider in Psychology
- You are certified by the American Board of Professional psychology and have been licensed in another state
If you do meet these requirements, you will still need to file an application, meet all current licensing requirements, pay application fees, and pass the California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination (CPLEE).
Step 6. Take the California Psychology Supplemental Examination (CPSE) or California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination (CPLEE)
As of July 1, 2015, the CPSE will be discontinued and you will take the CPLEE, instead.
For clarity’s sake, you may want to consider the California Board of Psychology’s Examination Flowchart, which clearly outlines the procedures and process for all examinations.
To be eligible to take the CPLEE, you should have:
- Passed the EPPP
- Accrued 3000 hours of supervised experience
Once you are eligible, you will apply for this exam by submitting:
When you send this directly to the Board, they will process your application, allow you to sit for the exam, and—when you pass the exam—they will issue you your official California psychology license.
Step 7. Begin Your Career as a Forensic Psychologist in California
With a California state-issued license to practice clinical psychology, you will be able to work in the following roles:
- Expert Witness
- Law Enforcement Consultant
- Juror Selection Consultant
- Trial Consultant
- Criminology Educator
- Victim Advocate
- Case Manager
- Clinical Director
For instance, specific forensic psychology jobs in California include, but are not limited to (Examples taken from a survey of job boards conducted in July 2015 and do not constitute job offers):
- Clinical Mental Health Director with Telecare Corporation in San Diego
- Forensic Clinician with Sharper Future in Los Angeles
- Menteal Health Clinic Supervisor for San Bernardino County
- Psychologist for Mission Psychology Group in Davis
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker for Liberty Healthcare in San Bernardino
- Forensic Clinician for Gateways Hospital and Mental Health in Normandie Village
Step 8. Renew Your California Psychology License
Finally, you will need to renew your license every two years in order to legally continue to work in California. To do so, use the California Board of Psychology’s online renewal instructions in order to renew your license online.
When you renew in a timely manner, you will need to pay a $420 renewal fee.
On the renewal form, you will be directed to enter the number of continuing education units you’ve completed, which should amount to 36 hours every two years.
Continuing education can be completed with any APA-accredited continuing education provider in California, including, but not limited to:
- A Home Within – San Francisco
- Academy for Professional Excellence – San Diego
- Academy of Mindful Psychology – Mill Valley
- Aetna Behavioral Health – Marina del Rey
- American College of Forensic Psychology – Carlsbad
Forensic Psychologist Salary Information for California
In 2014 the United States Department of Labor reported that the North Coast of California nonmetropolitan region was the highest paying metropolitan area in the nation for forensic psychologists. In addition, the following regions were among the top ten highest paying metropolitan areas for forensic psychologists in the nation:
- San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles
That same year California was also heralded as a national leader in terms of employment for forensic psychologists with some notable distinctions including:
- More forensic psychologists than any state in the country
- The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale metropolitan division had the highest number of forensic psychologists of any metropolitan area in the country
- The Hanford-Corcoran metropolitan region held the second highest concentration of forensic psychologists of any other metropolitan areas in the country
- The Mother Lode Region nonmetropolitan district held the second highest concentration of forensic psychologists of any nonmetropolitan area in the country
Experience Leads to High Salaries for California’s Forensic Psychologists
Salary surveys administered by the United States Department of Labor reveal that experience is the number one factor in determining salaries for forensic psychologists in California. In fact, California’s forensic psychology experts earned nearly three times that of those just entering the field (2014):
- Entry-Level (CA): $40,500
- Mid-Career (CA): $80,500
- Experienced (CA): $119,200
These statistics also show that forensic psychologists at all levels of experience still earned salaries that were higher than the national average that year:
- Entry-Level (US): $40,100
- Mid-Career (US): $68,900
- Experienced (US): $113,600
How Location Impacts Salaries for California’s Forensic Psychologists
In 2014, the United States Department of Labor discovered great salary diversity among forensic psychologists employed throughout California. For example, forensic psychologists working in the highest paying regions earned the following average annual salaries:
- Hanford-Corcoran: $109,900
- San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles: $105,780
- Vallejo-Fairfield: $102,960
- Salinas: $100,610
- Madera-Chowchilla: $99,170
By contrast, average salaries for forensic psychologists employed in the lowest paying areas of California were as follows:
- Chico: $59,270
- Modesto: $61,360
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale: $71,470
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana: $75,410
- Yuba City: $76,720
The following data table provides a more detailed account of forensic psychology salaries in several major metropolitan and nonmetropolitan regions of California: