Forensic psychologists may serve in a number of capacities, from practitioners to consultants to researchers and educators. As researchers, forensic psychologists participate in the collection and dissemination of data relevant to any number of legal issues.
Research abounds throughout the field. Effective forensic psychologists are consumers of existing psychological research data, and have the skills necessary to understand and interpret this data. They are able to examine statistical data, critically read and evaluate forensic psychology research, and apply the results of the research to the clinical and correctional setting, the judicial process, and to bring about change to public policy including policy related to policing strategies.
Forensic psychologists working in research or academic settings may teach or conduct research on any topic in which psychology and the law intersects. Just a few of the areas of research and education in this subfield of psychology include:
- Criminal profiling
- Crime trends
- Effective mental health treatment for offenders
- Effective treatment for substance abusers
- Techniques for jury selection
- Impact of divorce, visitation, custody, etc.
Forensic Psychologists as Researchers
It is important to note that forensic psychologists may work exclusively in the field of research, but they just as often serve in a dual role as clinicians and researchers. Whether or not they are directly involved in research, forensic psychologists always seek to employ relevant research in their clinical practice.
For example, clinical forensic psychologists may rely on psychological research to do everything from extract empirical data about psychological tests to determine the efficacy of different interrogation techniques.
Some forensic psychologists choose to teach in the field and combine teaching with research in their area of interest.
Researchers in the forensic arena may focus their work on any research issue that relates to the law or legal system. Their work may focus on the effectiveness of risk assessment strategies, the importance of questioning eyewitness memory recall, the evaluation of offender and victim treatment programs, or the effect of stress management interventions for police officers, just to name a few.
Some researchers focus their work on the development of tests intended to improve the process of criminal assessment, while others analyze treatments used on convicted criminals. Still others focus their research efforts on factors that contribute to criminal delinquency and violent behavior.
Regardless of the focus of their research, forensic psychologists work to discover trends, identify patterns, and/or make new discoveries. The findings of their research is often published in scholarly journals, such as:
Many forensic psychology researchers have dedicated web pages that detail their ongoing research projects. Just a few of the projects, listed on The American Psychology-Law Society Division 41 website, include:
- Dating Violence Research, San Diego State University
- Eyewitness Lab, University of Northern Iowa
- Eyewitness Memory, Iowa State University
- Investigative Interviewing Research Laboratory, University of Texas at El Paso
- Psychology and Law Research Lab, University of Wyoming
- Psychology and Law Lab, University of Arkansas
- The Police Investigation Techniques Lab, Ryerson University
- Witness Research Lab, The University of Alabama
How to Become a Forensic Research Psychologist
Psychologists interested primarily in research related to criminal and antisocial thinking and behavior typically opt for PhD programs in forensic psychology which tend to have a stronger focus on research methods than the more practice-focused PsyD programs. Some of these programs may be devoted solely to the study of forensic psychology, while others include study in other areas of psychology, such as:
However, most of these programs will include a faculty member who is conducting research in a forensic area. Regardless of the type of PhD program chosen, students interested in pursuing forensic psychology research will focus their graduate research on a topic related to forensic psychology.