How to Become a Forensic Psychologist in Virginia

Forensic psychologists apply psychological analysis to the criminal justice process, working side-by-side with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, court systems and correctional facilities to assist with criminal investigations, analyze the mental state of accused and convicted criminals, and serve as expert witnesses.

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At the federal level, forensic psychologists have worked on investigating cases such as the Virginia Tech shooting, the Beltway sniper, the Unabomber, the Zodiac killer, and more.

Well-known Virginia-based forensic psychologist, Dr. Evan Nelson, completed his post-doctoral residency at the Forensic Unit of Central State Hospital. Along with his investigations, he serves as an expert witness for numerous Virginia jurisdictions.

Dr. Nelson has worked on nationally recognized cases such as the Lorena Bobbitt case, the Daryl Atkins case, and the Lee Boyd Malvo case. Malvo was a D.C. area sniper who committed a multi-state shooting in 2002 that left 10 dead. Although Malvo tried to plead insanity, forensic psychologists were able to determine his mental state, and he was eventually prosecuted and charged with a life sentence for terrorism, capital murder, and the use of a firearm in the commission of a murder.

As a forensic psychologist in Virginia, you’ll have similar opportunities to lend your expertise to high profile criminal cases.

Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist in Virginia

If you’re ready to begin your career in the fast-growing field of forensic psychology, you’ll start by getting licensed as a psychologist with the Virginia Board of Psychology.

For step-by-step instruction on how to become a licensed forensic psychologist in Virginia, follow these steps:

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
Advance to a Graduate Degree and Doctorate in Forensic Psychology
Register as a Virginia Resident in Psychology
Complete 1500 Supervised Residency Hours
Take the National Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
Start Your Forensic Psychology Career in Virginia
Complete 14 hours of Continuing Education To Renew License Annually


 

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

A bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology will lay the foundation for your career in Virginia’s criminal justice system.

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Undergraduate degrees in forensic psychology available through schools in Virginia include, but are not limited to:

  • Bachelor of Arts or Science (BA/BS) in Forensic Psychology
  • BA or BS Criminal Justice/Forensic Psychology specialization
  • BA or BS in Psychology, Forensic emphasis

Through these degrees, you will learn the fundamentals of:

  • Criminal psychology
  • Police psychology
  • Legal psychology
  • Correctional psychology

Core psychology and criminal psychology courses will include, but are not limited to:

  • Statistics
  • Research methods
  • Psychopathology
  • Violence, aggression, and social deviance
  • Professional, legal, and ethical issues
  • Couple and family counseling
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal investigation
  • Victimology
  • Gender, race, and crime
  • Punishment and social theory

After you complete your courses, you will complete:

  • Forensic psychology internship or practicum
  • Final research project

Once you receive your bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology, you will be ready to move on to obtaining a graduate degree.


 

Step 2. Advance to a Graduate Degree and Doctorate in Forensic Psychology

To become a licensed psychologist in Virginia, you will need to complete a doctoral degree in clinical or forensic psychology.

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Once you have a bachelor’s degree, you can choose to enroll in a master’s degree that will lead to a doctorate degree, or you can choose to enroll directly in a doctoral program, where a master’s degree will be awarded along the way.

Earning a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology

Master’s programs in forensic psychology available through Virginia colleges include program titles such as these:

  • Master of Arts or Science in Forensic Psychology
  • Master of Arts or Science in Psychology, Forensics emphasis
  • Master of Arts or Science in Criminal Justice, Forensics emphasis
  • Master of Arts/Juris Doctor in Forensic Psychology and Law
  • Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, Forensic specialization

To enroll in a forensic psychology degree program, you will first need to meet the school’s admissions criteria, which generally require you to:

  • Hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution
  • Hold a 3.0 GPA or higher
  • Submit official GRE scores

Master’s programs in forensic psychology generally include between 40-60 credit hours in which you can specialize in specific areas of forensic psychology, such as:

  • Treatment of forensic populations
  • Aggression and social deviance
  • Trauma-focused therapy
  • Substance abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Rape crisis
  • Sex offense

Similar to a bachelor’s degree, your master’s degree will include an internship or practicum and a master’s thesis.

Earning a Doctorate Degree in Forensic Psychology

Finally, with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you will be able to apply for doctoral programs in Virginia, which include:

  • PhD or PsyD in Clinical Psychology, with Forensic emphasis
  • PhD or PsyD in Forensic Psychology (PhD)
  • PhD or PsyD in Clinical Forensic Psychology
  • PhD or PsyD in Clinical Psychology / Juris Doctor in Law (PHD/JD)

The eight APA-accredited clinical psychology doctorate programs in Virginia are located in:

  • Norfolk
  • Richmond
  • Blacksburg
  • Charlottesville
  • Fairfax
  • Arlington
  • Virginia Beach

To enroll in one of these highly selective programs, you will first need to meet admissions criteria, which often requires you to:

  • Hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Hold a 3.2 GPA or higher
  • Hold high GRE scores
  • Have 18 semester hours of psychology – including abnormal psychology and statistics

Once enrolled, you will begin the doctoral program, which consists of:

  • Forensic psychology courses
  • Clinical psychology practicum
  • Clinical forensic competency examinations
  • Doctoral dissertation
  • Clinical forensic psychology internship

The Virginia Board requires your doctoral program to provide a foundational education in psychology concepts that includes:

  • Biological bases of behavior (e.g., physiological psychology, comparative psychology, neuropsychology, sensation and perception, health psychology, pharmacology, neuroanatomy)
  • Cognitive-affective bases of behavior (e.g., learning theory, cognition, motivation, emotion)
  • Social bases of behavior (e.g., social psychology, group processes, organizational and systems theory, community and preventive psychology, multicultural issues)
  • Psychological measurement
  • Research methodology
  • Techniques of data analysis
  • Professional standards and ethics
  • Individual differences in behavior (e.g., personality theory, cultural difference and diversity)
  • Human development (e.g., child, adolescent, geriatric psychology)
  • Dysfunctional behavior, abnormal behavior or psychopathology
  • Theories and methods of intellectual assessment and diagnosis
  • Theories and methods of personality assessment and diagnosis including its practical application
  • Effective interventions and evaluating the efficacy of interventions

Along with this, you will specialize in forensic courses, including, but not limited to:

  • Diversity in forensic psychology
  • Trauma, crisis, and interventions
  • Psychometric theory
  • Mental health law
  • Substance abuse evaluation

Once you complete your doctoral program, you will be prepared to register as a Virginia resident in psychology.


 

Step 3. Register as a Virginia Resident in Psychology

Once you’ve received your doctorate degree, you can register as a resident in psychology by submitting:

  • Official Transcripts
  • Psychologist Application for Licensure by Examination (form 1)
  • Post-Degree Supervision Registration – Registration for Residency (form 2)
  • Internship Verification (form 4)
  • Area of Graduate Study (form 6)
  • $50 Registration of Residency fee
  • $200 Application Processing and Initial License Fee

All of these application forms can be found under the “examination forms” section of the Virginia Board of Psychology Applications & Forms page.

You will mail all of your application materials and supporting documents to the Board at their address:

BOARD OF PSYCHOLOGY
Department of Health Professions
9960 Mayland Drive, Suite 300
Richmond, Virginia 23233-1463

Once the Board receives and approves your application, you will be ready to complete your residency hours and take the national psychology examination.


 

Step 4. Complete 1500 Supervised Residency Hours

With approval from the Board, you can begin your residency hours. Some of these hours can be completed in your pre-doctoral practicum if your pre-doctoral practicum includes:

  • Face-to-face direct client services
  • Service-related activities
  • Supporting activities

Because you are aspiring to a career as a forensic psychologist, you will want to complete your post-doctoral supervised experience requirements in a forensic setting, such as a correctional facility, victim trauma center, or a court.

Finally, your residency program should be accredited by the APA, APPIC, or the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

APA-accredited internship and post-doctoral residency programs in Virginia include, but are not limited to:

  • Eastern Virginia Medical School – Norfolk
  • VA Medical Center – Salem
  • Virginia Treatment Center for Children – Richmond
  • Virginia Commonwealth University – Richmond
  • Loudoun County Public Schools – Ashburn
  • Federal Corrections Complex – Peterburg
  • Naval Medical Center – Portsmouth


 

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

Virginia residents in psychology are allowed to take this examination before the completion of their supervision, so you can register for and take this exam during or after your residency.

To take Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, complete these steps:

The exam consists of questions concerning 8 domains of psychology, including:

  • Biological bases of behavior
  • Cognitive bases of behavior
  • Social bases of behavior
  • Growth and development
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Treatment and supervision
  • Research methods and statistics
  • Ethical, legal, and professional issues

Once you complete this exam, have your scores immediately transferred to the Board.


 

Step 6. Start Your Forensic Psychology Career in Virginia

Now that you’re licensed as a psychologist in Virginia, you can apply for forensic psychology jobs, such as:

  • Forensic Clinician
  • Senior Clinical Psychologist
  • Forensic/Jail Diversion Program Psychologist
  • Homeless Mental Health Program Therapist
  • Victim Advocate/Therapist
  • Expert Witness

Forensic psychologists generally work in private law firms, correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies, child advocacy centers, behavioral health unites, and mental health agencies. Some organizations like these in Virginia include, but are not limited to:

  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – Chantilly
  • Department of Defense/Defense Intelligence Agency – Annandale
  • Global Institute of Forensic Research – Reston
  • Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy – Charlottesville
  • Arlington County Government
  • Virginia State Police – Petersburg
  • Commonwealth of Virginia – Department of Corrections – Richmond


 

Step 7. Complete 14 hours of Continuing Education To Renew License Annually

You will need to renew your license each year by June 30th. To renew, simply:

You will want to complete your14 hours of continuing education at an APA-accredited institution. APA-accredited continuing education providers in Virginia include, but are not limited to:

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – Alexandria
  • American Counseling Association – Alexandria
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – Chantilly
  • Department of Defense/Defense Intelligence Agency – Annandale
  • Global Institute of Forensic Research – Reston
  • Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy – Charlottesville
  • Virginia Psychological Association – Richmond


 

Forensic Psychologist Salary Information for Virginia

Forensic psychologists are well compensated for their specialized knowledge of psycholegal issues. This field is growing faster in Virginia than it is nationally, with Virginia Labor Market Information showing an increase in the number of forensic psychology jobs of 1.6% a year between 2012 and 2022. Such a high level of growth should generate an average of 148 jobs a year in Virginia during this ten-year period.

Virginia is home to an exceptionally high number of forensic psychologists since the FBI’s Behavioral Research and Instruction Unit (BRIU) is located in Quantico. In addition to consulting throughout the country, its expert forensic psychologists train new FBI agents in behavioral science and profiling, along with providing training to Virginia’s criminal justice, military, intelligence, and academic communities.

Other forensic psychologists in Virginia serve as expert witnesses. Their expertise ranges from domestic issues such as child custody cases to determining whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. Many other forensic psychologists work with mentally ill inmates to improve their condition and promote rehabilitation.

In 2008, a state mental health commission estimated that 15% of all of the inmates in Virginia’s prisons and jails had a serious mental illness. A report from Virginia’s Inspector General reported that the jails in the state held three times more individuals with serious mental illness than the state hospitals did in 2014.

The inadequate treatment of the seriously mentally ill in Virginia has had major repercussions; since after not being treated following his hospitalization for severe mental illness, Seung-Hui Cho went on to commit the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Salaries of Forensic Psychologists Employed with the Virginia State Government

Level III forensic psychologists in Virginia are employed by a number of criminal justice agencies. Three individuals worked for the Department of Corrections Division of Institutions in 2013 and earned salaries ranging from $89,390 to $91,813 that year. The overall average salary for forensic psychologists in Virginia was $90,778 that year.

The salaries of the seven level III forensic psychologists who worked for the Department of Juvenile Justice ranged from $77,418 to $89,891 in 2013. The average salary that year was $86,857. The salaries for forensic psychologists at other agencies are shown below:

  • Division of Community Corrections: $90,280
  • Greensville Correctional Center: $87,999
  • Marion Correctional Center: $83,000

According to the Virginia Department of Labor, experienced forensic psychologists in Virginia earned an average salary of $107,600 in 2014. The median salary was $67,400, while professionals who were new to the field averaged $40,800

Forensic Psychologist Salaries in Virginia’s Metropolitan and Rural Areas

Shown below for comparison are salaries by percentile for forensic psychologists throughout Virginia as of 2014 (US Department of Labor):

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Charlottesville VA
60
68890
Lynchburg VA
30
65730
Richmond VA
500
72670
Roanoke VA
120
61410
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News VA-NC
350
69290
Winchester VA-WV
70
53970
Southwestern Virginia nonmetropolitan area
70
60640
Southside Virginia nonmetropolitan area
80
59830
Northwestern Virginia nonmetropolitan area
110
73310

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