How to Become a Forensic Psychologist in Illinois

Successfully establishing criminal profiles, evaluating child custody cases, and maintaining a strong legal defense can all hinge on the work that forensic psychologists do.

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Forensic psychologists in Illinois have worked with law enforcement on some of the state’s most infamous criminal cases, such as that of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Accused of killing dozens of young boys, forensic psychologists played an important part in Gacy’s judgement, testifying on his competency to stand trial for both the defense and plaintiff teams. Their reliable and professional performance was important in cementing Gacy’s sentence, which withstood numerous appeals.

As a prospective forensic psychologist not all the work you do will grab headlines. With Chicago as the murder capital of the nation, forensic psychologists are particularly important in the nation’s third-largest city. Working here, you will find yourself among some of the most successful forensic psychologists in the nation. Included in this group are Alan Jaffe PsyD and Michael Fogel PsyD, each of which has an independent forensic psychology practice. Between them, these licensed clinical psychologists cover areas of specialization that include:

  • Child custody evaluations
  • Expert witness testimony
  • Sexual offender evaluations
  • Disability evaluations
  • Discrimination and harassment issues
  • Immigration services
  • Psychological autopsies
  • Post traumatic stress assessments


Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist in Illinois

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is responsible for licensing clinical psychologists, the credential you must obtain to legally work as a forensic psychologist anywhere in the state. To earn this license you need to follow these steps:

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
Earn Your Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
Earn Your Doctoral Degree in Forensic Psychology
Fill Out an Application for Licensure with the IDFPR
Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
Begin Your Career as a Forensic Psychologist
Maintain Your Clinical Psychology License


Step 1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Psychology

To be eligible for a clinical psychology license in Illinois you must earn a doctorate degree in psychology.

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As an Illinois resident you have many options when it comes to choosing a college or university that offers an undergraduate degree in the field of psychology, and ideally forensic psychology. These include traditional classroom based study through schools located throughout the state, as well as online forensic psychology programs.

Examples of relevant bachelor’s degrees include:

  • Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Psychology with a concentration in Forensics
  • Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Forensic and Correctional Psychology
  • Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Criminal Psychology

Your four-year undergraduate degree program can be broken up into several parts:

  • Forensic psychology elective courses – about 40 semester credits, mostly upper-division
  • Core forensic psychology courses – about 20 semester credits, mostly upper-division
  • General undergraduate courses – about 60 semester credits, mostly lower-division

BS degree electives tend to emphasize science courses, while BA degree electives tend to emphasize the humanities and arts. Both BA and BS degree programs share core forensic psychology courses, which cover subjects that include:

  • Introduction to criminal psychology
  • Juvenile and criminal justice system
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Criminal behavior
  • Psychological disorders
  • Criminology and corrections
  • Forensic psychology lab

Before you have completed your bachelor’s degree you can start thinking about which graduate school you will want to apply to. Some doctoral programs directly admit bachelor’s students, while others require that you first earn a master’s degree.


Step 2. Earn Your Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology

The first step to beginning your graduate studies will be to meet the individual admission requirements for your chosen program. These typically include:

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  • An undergraduate degree that includes coursework in psychology or forensic psychology
  • Minimum GPA, such as a 3.0
  • Resume or CV
  • Personal essay
  • Letters of recommendation

There are several variations of master’s programs in the field of forensic psychology, including the following:

  • Master’s Degree (MA/MS) in Forensic Psychology
  • Master’s Degree (MA/MS) in Psychology with a concentration in Forensics
  • Master’s Degree (MA/MS) in Counseling with a concentration in Forensics
  • Master’s Degree (MA/MS) in Criminal Justice

Your two-year master’s program can be structured as follows:

  • 30 semester credits of relevant elective courses
  • 30 semester credits of field work and core courses

Once you have been admitted to a program you can start taking upper division core courses in forensic psychology. These cover advanced topics in subjects like:

  • Dispute resolution
  • Forensic mediation
  • Hostage negotiations
  • Advanced methods in forensic psychology
  • Evaluation and treatments within the criminal justice system


Step 3. Earn Your Doctoral Degree in Forensic Psychology

To be eligible for licensure in Illinois, you need to graduate from a doctoral program accredited by one of these organizations:

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You can find programs that are accredited by these institutions in cities like:

  • Chicago
  • Champaign
  • DeKalb
  • Carbondale
  • Evanston
  • Wheaton
  • Normal
  • Schaumburg
  • Downers Grove

If you are completing a bachelor’s-to-doctoral program you will essentially complete a master’s curriculum as part of this, and then be able to take doctoral-level courses.

If you have completed your master’s program separately then you will need to meet the admission requirements for the doctoral program of your choosing. These are similar to those for a master’s program, and may additionally include:

  • Work experience requirement
  • Clinical hour requirement
  • Graduate testing requirement

Within doctoral programs for forensic psychology you can find several different types of degrees:

  • PhD in Forensic Psychology
  • PsyD in Forensic Psychology
  • PsyD in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Forensics
  • PhD in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Forensics

A typical doctoral program can be structured as follows and take two to three years to complete:

  • Core forensic psychology courses – 45-65 semester credits
  • Forensic psychology electives – 10-20 semester credits
  • Training, field work, practicum and internships – 10-15 semester credits

Doctoral programs may offer different areas of specialization within the field of forensic psychology. You can choose a specialization according to your professional goals from areas like these:

  • Child and family forensic psychology
  • Clinical forensic psychology
  • Child protection and forensic psychology
  • Sex offenders and forensic psychology
  • Corrections and forensic psychology
  • Professional counseling and forensic psychology

According to Illinois law, to be eligible for licensure as a clinical psychologist you must complete a total of two years of supervised experience as follows:

  • 1,750 hours as part of an internship – this can be during your education
  • 1,750 hours in a post-doctoral setting

Examples of approved clinical internship locations in Illinois include:

  • Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago
  • Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago
  • Hines VA Hospital
  • Allendale Association in Lake Villa
  • Advocate Family Care Network in Oak Lawn
  • Jewish Child and Family Services in Northbrook
  • Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates


Step 4. Fill Out an Application for Licensure with the IDFPR

When you have completed your required education, clinical, and internship, it will be time to fill out an Application for Licensure with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). You can do this on their website by selecting “Written Application,” from the Licensee Application Forms menu.

Once you have submitted a complete application, IDFPR will determine your eligibility to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). If you are eligible, IDFPR will notify the exam company Continental Testing Services (CTS) of your eligibility. At this point you will need to register with CTS by selecting “On-line Examination Application,” from the IDFPR’s website under the Licensee Application Forms menu.


Step 5. Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)

After you have registered with CTS, the company will notify you of your eligibility to test for the EPPP. The EPPP is sponsored and developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). Your final step to take the EPPP is to register directly with ASPPB.

You can prepare for the exam by studying the EPPP Candidate Handbook. You will have 255 minutes to complete 225 multiple-choice questions. Topic categories covered on the exam are as follows:

  • Professional, ethical, and legal issues – 15 percent
  • Prevention, intervention, treatment, and supervision – 14 percent
  • Diagnosis and assessment – 14 percent
  • Cognitive-affective bases of behavior – 13 percent
  • Biological bases of behavior – 12 percent
  • Growth and lifespan development – 12 percent
  • Cultural and social bases of behavior – 12 percent
  • Statistics and research methods – 8 percent

In the application packet you initially completed to apply for eligibility for the EPPP with the IDFPR, you will have noticed a section titled, “Acceptance of Examination.” You must now complete this portion of your application and submit this to the IDFPR within one year of passing the EPPP. Once you have done this your clinical psychology licensed will be processed and sent to you.


Step 6. Begin Your Career as a Forensic Psychologist

With your hard-earned clinical psychologist license in hand, you will now be ready to start pursuing forensic psychology jobs in Illinois. You may want to start your own consulting business, work with an established firm, or become a public servant and offer your skills to a government agency.

The following represent some examples of forensic psychologist employers in Illinois, and are provided here as illustrative purposes only based on a job board survey conducted in August, 2015:

Trauma Therapist with La Rabida in Park Forest – requires a doctorate in Clinical or Counseling Psychology, or an MSW or MA in a related field.

Supervisor Psychologist for the sex offender treatment program with Liberty Healthcare in Rushville – candidates are preferred to be a licensed counselor in Illinois.

Forensic Psychologist with the Chicago Health and Welfare Service – requires a doctoral degree in Psychology and a valid Illinois psychologist license.

Professional Resources

You can find additional resources about licensing and employment with professional organizations like:


Step 7. Maintain Your Clinical Psychology License

As your career grows and you branch out into new and exciting opportunities, remember that you must renew your clinical psychology license by every September 30th of even-numbered years.

To be eligible for renewal, you must earn at least 24 credits of continuing education (CE) during each renewal period. One hour of classroom learning is equivalent to one CE credit.

You can earn CE credits from approved sponsors like:

  • American Psychological Association
  • Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology
  • Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
  • Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology
  • Illinois Psychological Association
  • American Medical Association


 Forensic Psychologist Salary Information for Illinois

According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago unfortunately has one of the highest violent crime rates among major U.S. cities. Although the violent crime rate per capita has slowly been decreasing, there were still over 500 murders in Chicago in 2012 alone, prompting the FBI to nickname the city “the murder capital.”

These staggering numbers call for concerted collaboration between the criminal justice system and forensic psychologists. There are many ways in which Illinois forensic psychologists are able to use their expertise as it relates to homicide research, criminal pathology and much more:

  • Child protective services
  • Expert witness
  • Victim assistance
  • Elderly abuse investigation
  • Court-appointed advocacy
  • Independent consulting
  • Healthcare facilities

Job Growth and Salary Expectations for Forensic Psychologists in Illinois

The Chicago metropolitan area is abundant with job opportunities for forensic psychologists. There are more forensic psychologists in Chicago alone than all other Illinois regions combined.

Chicago’s Cook County Jail, sprawled over 96 acres, holds anywhere from 9,000-11,00 inmates. One out of every three Cook County inmates suffers from a mental illness. Because of the high demand for psychological intervention, new initiatives are being introduced in Cook County to better serve the multitude of inmates in need of psychological treatment. These initiatives require even more collaboration between law enforcement and forensic psychologists and will create more job opportunities for those pursuing careers in forensic psychology.

The Illinois Department of Labor has projected that 293 new jobs in the forensic psychology field will be created in the state by the year 2022.

The salaries that forensic psychologists earn depend greatly on their level of experience. U.S. Department of Labor reports show that a highly experienced forensic psychologist in Illinois may earn almost three times as much as an entry-level forensic psychologist:

  • Entry Level: $34,000
  • Mid-Career: $64,600
  • Experienced: $99,400


Salaries for Forensic Psychologists in Illinois Major Metro and Non-Metro Areas

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois-based psychologists earning the highest average salaries are employed in Bloomington, Springfield, and Lake County. In these areas, forensic psychologists earned an average salary of more than $70,000 a year.

Shown below is a detailed analysis of forensic psychologists’ salaries in the state of Illinois (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014):

Area name
Annual mean wage
Bloomington-Normal IL
Champaign-Urbana IL
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville IL Metropolitan Division
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville IL-IN-WI
Decatur IL
Kankakee-Bradley IL
Lake County-Kenosha County IL-WI Metropolitan Division
Peoria IL
Rockford IL
Springfield IL
Northwest Illinois nonmetropolitan area
West Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area
East Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area
South Illinois nonmetropolitan area

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