Your skills as a forensic psychologist in Iowa can make an important difference in the lives of your clients and those in your community. You may be called on to:
- Testify about the mental stability of a parent in a Des Moines child custody case
- Conduct a psychological evaluation of a sex offender in the Polk County Jail to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial
- Work with law enforcement officers from the Davenport Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division to create a psychological profile for a serial arsonist
- Create a professional psychological analysis to support a client’s courtroom defense with Waterloo’s public defender
Urbandale-based forensic psychologist, Dr. Anthony Tatman, is an inspirational example of the type of professional you could become once you’ve completed your education and worked hard to make a career for yourself. After completing his PhD in Counseling Psychology, Dr. Tatman began his own practice. Today he works with the Iowa Department of Correctional Service as its Clinical Services Director, before which time he served on the Iowa Board for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. In these capacities he has testified as an expert witness, conducted sex offender risk evaluations, and consulted for defense as well as prosecution teams.
Starting your own practice and providing services to government agencies or working with a private law firm are just a couple examples of where a career in forensic psychology could take you.
Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist in Iowa
You will need to become a licensed psychologist to legally work as a forensic psychologist in Iowa. The Iowa Board of Psychology, working with the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Professional Licensure, is the agency that will evaluates your initial application and issue your psychology license.
You can complete the licensure process and start your career by following these steps:
Step 1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Iowa law requires that you have a doctoral degree in Psychology to be eligible for a psychology license. Completing this requirement starts with a bachelor’s degree.
As a prospective student in Iowa you have several choices when it comes to earning your degree in Forensic Psychology. These include online degree programs as well as those offered with a traditional classroom experience.
Specific degree programs you can think about include:
- Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Forensic Psychology
- Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Criminal Psychology
- Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Psychology with a concentration in Forensics
- Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BS) in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Psychology
The structure of a bachelor’s degree program in the field of forensic psychology is usually organized in the following manner:
- General undergraduate course requirements – about 60 semester credits
- Forensic psychology major – about 60 semester credits
- Core forensic psychology courses – 30 semester credits
- Forensic psychology electives – 30 semester credits
Core forensic psychology courses cover subjects that include:
- Social psychology
- Psychology and law
- Psychology of criminal behavior
- Abnormal psychology
- Behavioral pharmacology
- Research practicum
As you get closer to completing your degree it will be time to start thinking about graduate school. Some graduate programs are four to five years in length and result in a doctoral degree, while others proceed through a two-year master’s degree and then a two-year doctoral degree.
Step 2. Earn a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
As you start exploring your graduate school options it is important to determine individual admission requirements.
These can include any of the following:
- Official transcripts showing completion of a bachelor’s degree; some programs require or prefer completion of a bachelor’s degree in the field of psychology
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal essay
- Resume or CV
- GRE General Advancement exam; some programs prefer or require the GRE subject exam in Psychology
- Minimum GPA, such as a 3.0
As a prospective graduate student in Iowa, you will find several variations within the field of forensic psychology:
- 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 of Science in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Psychological Assessment
Your master’s program may follow a structure such as:
- 25 semester credits in core courses
- 25 semester credits in forensic psychology electives
- 200 hours of practicum or clinical experience
Core courses that are directly relevant to your degree can include:
- Dispute resolution
- Personality assessment
- Cognitive and intellectual assessment
- Child and adult psychopathology
- Psychology within the criminal justice system
- Ethics of forensic psychology
- Evaluation and treatment of special populations
Your master’s program may or may not include a thesis. If it does, you can use your thesis topic as a stepping-stone towards your doctoral degree. You can also tailor your practicum or clinical experience towards a particular concentration of your choosing within the field of forensic psychology. This can be further developed as part of your PhD or PsyD.
Step 3. Earn a Doctoral Degree in Forensic Psychology
To be eligible for a psychology license in Iowa, you must earn a degree in this subject from a regional accrediting association within the United States, such as the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
Furthermore, your degree program must also be accredited by one of these organizations:
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)
- Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) – National Register Designation Project
Graduate schools in Iowa that are accredited by these organizations are located in the cities of Ames and Iowa City.
You can find several different types of doctoral degree programs within the field of forensic psychology, including:
- 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
The entrance requirements for these programs are similar to those for a master’s degree, and may also include:
- Related work or research experience
- Accumulation of a specific amount of clinical hours or practicum experience
A two to three-year doctoral program is comprised of a few main segments:
- Forensic psychology core curriculum
- Practicum and clinical experience
- Thesis research and writing
Within your graduate studies program you may have the opportunity to choose a specialization in areas like:
- Criminal profiling
- Psychology for child protective services
- Psychology for the criminal justice system
- Psychology for the juvenile justice system
- Crisis intervention
- Investigative psychology
- Police psychology
- Victim psychology
Step 4. Complete Your Experience Requirements
To be eligible for a psychology license in Iowa you need to earn the following two years of relevant experience:
- 1,500 hours of organized health service training experience, including 375 hours of direct patient contact – this can be completed as part of your doctoral program
- 1,500 hours of supervised professional experience – this must be completed outside of your doctoral program
Examples of locations where you can complete these experience requirements include:
- VA Central Iowa Health Care System in Des Moines
- Iowa City VA Health Care System in Coralville
- University counseling centers in the cities of:
- Iowa City
Step 5. Apply for a Psychology License
Once you have completed the steps up to this point you will be eligible to submit an application for licensure to the Iowa Board of Psychology. You can apply online by creating an account on the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Professional Licensure website.
Before you can become fully licensed you will need to pass the Examination for Professionals Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Once the board has determined that your application is complete and that you are eligible for licensure, it will notify the EPPP’s sponsor that you can sign up for this exam.
Step 6. Pass the Examination for Professionals Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) sponsors the EPPP. Once the Iowa Board of Psychology has notified ASPPB that you are eligible to test, you can register for the EPPP online.
You can prepare for this test by studying the EPPP Candidate Handbook. You will have 4.25 hours to complete the 225 multiple-choice questions on this exam. The categories you will be tested on are:
- Statistics and research methods
- Professional, ethical, and legal issues
- Cultural and social bases of behavior
- Prevention, intervention, treatment, and supervision
- Growth and lifespan development
- Diagnosis and assessment
- Biological bases of behavior
- Cognitive-affective bases of behavior
Step 7. Launch Your New Forensic Psychology Career in Iowa
You have just passed your test and the Iowa Board of Psychology has sent you your well-deserved license. Congratulations, you can now start pursuing forensic psychology jobs in Iowa.
Public and private sectors can both benefit from your skills as a forensic psychologist. You may also want to start your own practice or work as a consultant. The following are examples of agencies and practices where you can consider offering your services as a forensic psychologist. These are provided as illustrative examples only, taken from an August 2015 survey of job boards in Iowa:
- Polk County Attorney’s Office
- Iowa Department of Corrections
- Iowa Board for the Treatment of Sex Offenders
- Stokes and Associates Psychological and Forensic Services in Sioux City
- Mosaic Family Counseling Center in Des Moines
- Compass Clinical Associates in Urbandale
- Iowa Department of Human Services, Child Protective Services
- Des Moines Police Department
- Criminal Investigations Division with the Cedar Rapids Police Department
You can find additional information about becoming licensed, as well as forensic psychology jobs in Iowa, with professional organizations like:
- Iowa Psychological Association
- Iowa School Psychologists Association
- American Board of Forensic Psychology
- American College of Forensic Psychology
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences
Step 8. Maintain Your Psychology License
As you put your education and skills to work in your new career, remember that you must renew your psychology license before it expires on June 30th of even-numbered years.
Except during your first biannual renewal, to be eligible to renew your license you need to earn 40 credits of continuing education (CE).
One credit is defined as 50 minutes of participation in a CE activity. Continuing education is defined as a planned and organized learning act designed to maintain or improve your knowledge or skills in the field of forensic psychology, or psychology in general. CE through contact with a professional in your field is also awarded for relevant college courses:
- 1 semester credit equals 15 CE credits
- 1 quarter credit equals 10 CE credits
Forensic Psychologist Salary Information for Iowa
Historically, the Iowa mental health care industry has not had the best track record. From 2009-2011, billions of dollars were cut from the mental health budget, resulting in a severe lack of care for those suffering from mental illness.
However, in the past few years there have been vast improvements and in the psychology field. The Iowa Mental Health and Disability Redesign – implemented in 2014 – requires every region of Iowa to provide core mental health services to its citizens. This is supported by the Affordable Healthcare Act, which makes mental healthcare more attainable for those who could not previously pay for treatment.
The combination of these two new plans has resulted in many new opportunities for forensic psychologists in Iowa, and salaries that are significantly higher than the national average.
Job Growth and Salary Expectations for Forensic Psychologists in Iowa
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that in 2014, there were 1,370 psychologists working in Iowa, with just a small percentage of these specializing in forensics. The psychology field is projected to grow by one percent each year, which is equivalent to 50 job openings annually.
The average salaries for Iowa’s forensic psychologists are much higher than the national averages (BLS, 2014):
- Experienced (U.S.): $113,600
- Mid-Career (U.S.): $68,900
- Entry-Level (U.S.): $40,100
- Experienced (IA): $124,600
- Mid-Career (IA): $70,800
- Entry-Level (IA): $47,600
Salaries for Forensic Psychologists in Iowa’s Major Metro and Non-Metro Areas
According to a 2014 report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 160 psychologists are employed in the Des Moines and West Des Moines area. The Southeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area has the second most, with 100.
Though the Des Moines area has the most opportunities for forensic psychologists, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area has the highest average salary at $116,470. Other areas with above-average salaries include the Des Moines area with an average annual salary of $85,910; Davenport, where the average salary is $83,750; and the Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area, where forensic psychologists’ average salary is $80,960.
For a more detailed analysis of salary information for Iowa’s forensic psychologists, see the chart below (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014):
*The hourly wage is equal to or greater than $90 while the annual salary is equal to or greater than $187,199. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report salary data greater than these values.