How to Become a Forensic Psychologist in Pennsylvania

In 2015, WFMZ News of Eastern Pennsylvania reported on Johnesha Perry, a 19-year-old Allentown mother, who threw her 20-month son and her self off of a bridge. After falling 52 feet into the Lehigh River, both the mother and son were hospitalized. Although she survived, her son passed away just a few days later.

Perry’s hearing was on June 5th, 2015, where she was charged with criminal homicide. Strangely, acquaintances described Perry as being happy before the incident. Before she threw her son off the bridge, she took him out of a stroller and kissed him on the forehead.

Forensic psychologist, Robert Gordon, states that all signs indicate a severe mental illness, since killing one’s own baby goes against primitive forms of protection, and people without a serious mental illness often don’t act on such outrageous thoughts. Perry’s hearing is scheduled for 2016, and her mental illness or stability at the time is yet to be determined.

Dr. Robert M. Gordon is an Allentown psychologist certified with an ABPP Diplomat in Clinical Psychology and an ABPP Diplomat in Psychoanalysis. He went into full-time private practice in 1976, after he earned his PhD from Temple University and specialized in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and forensic psychology.

Since then, Dr. Gordon has worked as a psychoanalyst, forensic psychologist, and forensic psychology consultant for the Institute for Advanced Psychological Training and for the Public Defender’s Office. He specializes in various areas of forensic psychology, including:

  • Criminal responsibility
  • Mental state
  • Competency to stand trial
  • Capital mitigation evaluations
  • Juvenile transfer evaluations
  • Sentencing evaluations
  • Malingering and deception
  • Testamentary capacity
  • Personal injury and emotional distress claims
  • Malpractice — plaintiff and defense
  • Sexual offender evaluations
  • Risk assessment

Becoming a forensic psychologist and contributing your expertise to the criminal justice process all starts by gaining the education and experience required to become a licensed psychologist through the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology.

Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist in Pennsylvania

If you’re ready to embark on your career as a forensic psychologist in Pennsylvania, you’ll start by earning a psychologist license with the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology.

For step-by-step guidance on how to become a licensed forensic psychologist in Pennsylvania, follow these simple steps:

Earn an Undergraduate Degree in Forensic Psychology
Earn a Master’s and Doctoral Degree in Forensic Psychology
Complete 1500-1750 Hours of Post-Doctoral Experience
Submit Application for National Licensing Examinations and a Pennsylvania Psychologist License
Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and Pennsylvania Psychology Law Examination
Begin Your Career as a Licensed Forensic Psychologist in Pennsylvania
Complete 30 Hours of Continuing Education to Renew Your License


 

Step 1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree in Forensic Psychology

Your first step toward earning your psychologist license in Pennsylvania is earning a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology in preparation for graduate level studies and post-doctoral experience.

Bachelor’s degrees in forensic psychology available through schools in Pennsylvania include, but are not limited to:

  • Bachelor of Arts or Science (BA/BS) in Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor of Arts or Science (BA/BS) in Psychology: Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor of Arts or Science (BA/BS) in Criminal Psychology
  • Bachelor of Arts or Science (BA/BS) in Criminal Justice: Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor of Arts or Science (BA/BS) in Forensic & Correctional Psychology

Although each college is different, most schools offer forensic psychology degree programs that include around 120 credits of course requirements organized as follows:

  • General Education requirements
  • Liberal Arts requirements (for bachelor of arts degrees)
  • Psychology requirements
  • Forensic Psychology requirements
  • Electives

Your main forensic psychology requirements will include courses like these:

  • Research I: Statistics for Psychology
  • Research II: Scientific Investigations
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Counseling Process and Techniques
  • Sociology of Crime and Violence
  • Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • Law, Justice, and Family
  • Crimes Against Children
  • Forensic Law
  • American Politics
  • The American Legal Tradition
  • Sociology of Deviant Behavior

Once you earn your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be ready to apply for enrollment in a graduate program in forensic psychology.


 

Step 2. Earn a Master’s and Doctoral Degree in Forensic Psychology

With a bachelor’s degree, you can apply to a terminal master’s program, or you can apply to a doctoral program that issues a master’s degree along the way.

Although each school is different, most graduate programs require applicants to meet minimum admissions criteria, such as these:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology from an accredited university
  • Hold a high grade point average
  • Have high scores on the graduate record examination (GRE)

Some very competitive doctoral programs in forensic psychology may require more strict admissions requirements, such as:

  • Hold a 3.5 GPA or higher
  • Attain high GRE scores and high scores on the Psychology Subject Test
  • Have previous research or internship experience in forensic psychology

Whether you opt to enter a terminal master’s degree before enrolling in a doctoral program, or you opt for a combined program that provides master’s and doctoral level courses in a single comprehensive program, the Pennsylvania Board requires that your program has received accreditation through the American Psychological Association (APA) or has been designated by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

Master’s Degrees in Forensic Psychology

If you opt to enroll in a terminal master’s degree in forensic psychology, you have a number of options, both online and through schools with campus locations in Pennsylvania:

  • Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology (MA)
  • Master of Arts in Psychology: Forensics (MA)
  • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice: Forensic Psychology (MA)
  • Master of Legal Studies: Psychology (MLS)
  • Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology / Juris Doctor in Law (MA/JD)

Although each university is different, master’s degrees are generally two-year programs that include 30-60 credits of course requirements, including:

  • Research Design
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Psychology and the Law
  • Introduction to Clinical Assessments
  • Diversity in Psychology
  • Ethics in Psychology
  • Assessment in Criminal and Civil Law
  • Child Assessment
  • Developmental Psychopathology
  • Adult Psychopathology
  • Forensic Report Writing
  • Psychology of Criminal Behavior
  • Law and Mental Health

Depending on your school, your master’s program may also include internships or practicum at local court clinics, sex offender treatment programs within a secure prison setting, juvenile detention and treatment facilities, or community-based mental health settings.

Finally, your master’s program will end with you completing your thesis. A thesis allows you to delve into the original research that could form the foundation of your doctoral research.

Doctoral Degrees in Forensic Psychology

Schools that offer APA-accredited doctoral degree programs in Pennsylvania have campus locations throughout the state, including:

  • Chester
  • University Park
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Bethlehem
  • Indiana
  • Immaculata
  • Scranton

These schools offer various forensic psychology doctoral programs:

  • PhD or PsyD in Forensic Psychology
  • PhD or PsyD in Clinical Psychology with a Forensic Emphasis
  • PhD in Clinical Psychology / JD in Law
  • PhD in Forensic Psychology / Master of Legal Studies (MLS)

A doctoral program will include between 70 and 100 credit hours of requirements distributed among:

  • Core Courses
  • Electives
  • Internships
  • Dissertation

Doctoral courses in forensic psychology generally include, but are not limited to:

  • Foundations of Graduate Study in Psychology
  • Criminal Behavior
  • Advanced Psychopathology
  • Understanding Forensic Psychology Research
  • Research, Theory, Design, and Methods
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis
  • Treatment of Forensic Populations
  • Psychology in Courts
  • Police Psychology

Once you complete your course requirements, you can move on to completing your internship. You will want to strive to complete your internship in a forensic setting, such as a jail or juvenile detention center.

APA-accredited internship providers in Pennsylvania include, but are not limited to, organizations such as:

  • The Devereux Foundation – King of Prussia
  • Friends Hospital – Philadelphia
  • Pennsylvania State University – University park
  • VA Medical Center – Coatesville
  • Western Psychiatric Institute – Pittsburgh
  • Allegheny General Hospital – Pittsburgh
  • Erie Psychological Consortium – Erie
  • WellSpan Behavioral Health – York

Finally, you will move on to completing your dissertation. The dissertation process may consists of qualifying examinations, oral examinations, dissertation writing, and a dissertation defense.

Upon completing your dissertation, you will receive your doctoral degree in forensic psychology.


 

Step 3. Complete 1500-1750 Hours of Post-Doctoral Experience

After you earn your doctoral degree, you’ll be ready to start your post-doctoral experience. The Pennsylvania Board requires that you complete 1500 hours of post-doctoral experience if you began your experience before December 6, 2010. If you began you experience after that date, you’ll need to complete 1750 hours.

During these hours, the Board requires that you perform various duties, including:

  • Diagnosis
  • Assessment
  • Therapy
  • Other Interventions
  • Consultation
  • Individual supervision received as a supervisee

Because you are aspiring to work as a forensic psychologist, you will want to earn your post-doctoral experience hours in a forensic setting, such as a corrections office, rehabilitation office, trauma therapy center, jail, prison, or court system.

APA-accredited post-doctoral experience providers in Pennsylvania include, but are not limited to:

  • VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System: Behavioral Health Service Line – Pittsburgh
  • VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System: Behavioral Health – Pittsburgh


 

Step 4. Submit Application for National Licensing Examinations and a Pennsylvania Psychologist License

After you earn your doctorate degree, you’ll be eligible to apply for your Pennsylvania psychologist licensing examinations and psychologist license.

The Pennsylvania Board allows you to apply for your examinations before completing your post-doctoral experience or to apply for your examinations and license after completing your post-doctoral experience.

Application for After Post-Doctoral Experience

If you have completed your post-doctoral experience, you can apply for your license and examinations by completing the following steps:

  • Submit the correct application for after completing post-doctoral experience
  • Submit criminal background check information
  • Submit official doctoral degree transcripts
  • Submit verification of doctoral accreditation form
  • Post-doctoral experience form
  • $105 application fee

Application for Before Post-Doctoral Experience

If you are starting the application process prior to completing your post-doctoral experience, you can apply for your examinations by completing the following steps:

  • Submit the correct application for before completing post-doctoral experience
  • Submit criminal background check information
  • Submit official doctoral degree transcripts
  • Submit verification of doctoral accreditation form
  • Attach $105 application fee

After you complete your post-doctoral experience, you will submit the final licensure application, which includes the following documents:

  • Application for License to Practice Psychology (on page 7 of this document)
  • Updated criminal background check
  • Updated child abuse history clearance
  • Documentation of 1500 hours of post-doctoral experience (on page 9 of this document)

You can mail all application materials to the Board at their mailing address, which is as follows:

State Board of Psychology
P.O. Box 2649
Harrisburg, PA 17105-2649

Once the Board receives your application, it will determine your eligibility to sit for the EPPP and the PPLE, and if you are approved, it will notify the examination agencies that you are eligible.


 

Step 5. Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and Pennsylvania Psychology Law Examination

If the Board approves your application, it will notify the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) and Professional Credentialing Services (PCS) that you are prepared to take Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and PPLE respectively.

Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)

This exam is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). Before taking the exam, you will need to complete the following steps:

Once you’re registered, the ASPPB will send you information and guidelines on scheduling your exam date and time with Pearson VUE.

This exam is a 225-question, multiple-choice exam, which will ask you questions concerning various psychological domains, including:

  • Biological Bases of Behavior
  • Cognitive-Affective Bases of Behavior
  • Social and Cultural Bases of Behavior
  • Growth and Lifespan Development
  • Assessment and Diagnosis
  • Treatment, Intervention, Prevention, and Supervision
  • Research Methods and Statistics
  • Ethical, Legal, and Professional Issues

Once you complete this exam, you will want to send a score report to the Pennsylvania Board.

Pennsylvania Psychology Law Examination (PPLE)

The last exam you need to take before you become licensed is the Pennsylvania Psychology Law Examination (PPLE), which is administered by Professional Credential Services (PCS). This exam will focus on the Board’s Laws and Regulations.

Before taking this exam, be sure to read the PPLE Candidate Information Bulletin, which outlines current exam dates, exam fees, admission requirements, and more.

Once you’re registered, you will schedule to take your exam with PSI exams. You can take this 60-minute exam at any of the PSI test centers in Pennsylvania, which are located in:

  • Allentown
  • Bristol
  • Butler
  • Clark Summit
  • Coatesville
  • Cranberry Township
  • Erie
  • Forty Fort
  • Pittsburgh
  • Harrisburg
  • King of Prussia
  • New Castle
  • New Cumberland

You must achieve a score of 75 or higher to pass this exam. PCS will mail your results to the Board when you complete the exam. If you’ve passed the exam, the Board will issue your Pennsylvania psychologist license.


 

Step 6. Begin Your Career as a Licensed Forensic Psychologist in Pennsylvania

Once the Board issues your Pennsylvania psychologist license, you can begin your career as a licensed forensic psychologist.

Forensic psychologists generally look for jobs such as these:

  • Forensic clinician
  • Criminologist
  • Police detective
  • Corrections officer
  • Probation counselor
  • Criminal psychologist
  • Expert witness

Forensic psychologists can look for jobs in Pennsylvania’s prisons or jails, juvenile detention and treatment facilities, victim rehabilitation centers, or community-based mental health settings, including, but not limited to:

  • Liberty Healthcare Corporation – New Castle
  • iMed Staffing, LLC – Erie
  • Philadelphia Police Department – Philadelphia
  • Pennsylvania State Police – Gettysburg
  • SCI Huntington – Huntingdon County
  • Youth Advocate Programs – Monroe County

You may also choose to establish an independent practice, providing your specialized forensic services to law offices, law enforcement agencies, and court systems on a contract basis.


 

Step 7. Complete 30 Hours of Continuing Education to Renew Your License

Your license will expire by November 30th of every odd-numbered year. The Board will mail you a renewal notice 2-3 months prior to the expiration.

To renew, you will want to complete the following steps:

Your continuing education can include completing any of the following activities:

  • Completing a home study
  • College or university courses
  • Teaching a psychology course
  • Attending a workshop
  • Publishing a journal article or book chapter

If you attend workshops, courses, symposia, or seminars, you will want to make sure that your program is Board-approved or APA-approved. Board- and APA-approved continuing education providers include, but are not limited to:

  • Association of School Psychologists of PA – State College
  • California University of PA – California, PA
  • Central Pennsylvania Institute for Mental Health – Annville
  • Chester County Intermediate Unit – Downingtown
  • Cognitive Health Solutions, LLC – Hanover
  • Delaware County Association of School Psychologists – Morton
  • Gestalt Therapy Institute of Philadelphia – Bryn Mawr

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