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What Is a Forensic Psychology Career Like in Real Life?

If you’re wondering whether a master’s in forensic psychology could lead to a career that’s as interesting off camera as it is on TV’s hottest crime programs, the answer is in our candid interview with a former FBI psychologist.

Forensic psychology professionals use certain principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case. Those who have earned their degree in a psychology master’s program are often called as forensic mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, child protective service workers, or expert witnesses in criminal, civil, or family court.

So which crime show comes closest to depicting life as a forensic psychology professional? Is it NCIS and its brilliant, eccentric forensics specialist Abby Sciuto—or Criminal Minds’ jet-setting team of profilers for the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit?

What Is a Forensic Psychology Career Like in Real Life?

We found the perfect person to ask: former FBI psychologist Kristen Beyer, PhD. Dr. Beyer is the program director for the online MS in Forensic Psychology program at Walden University. “Of all the TV crime shows, Criminal Minds comes closest to depicting real forensic psychologists—if you take away the private jet,” said Dr. Beyer.

A clinical psychologist by training, Dr. Beyer worked at the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) which is known as “the brains” of the agency’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. As professional support staff for field agents, Dr. Beyer researched high-profile cases involving violent crimes, serial murders, rapes, and child abductions, as well as cold cases and interview strategies. Years later on September 11, 2001, she was part of the FBI team that responded to the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Patience, Perseverance, and Hard Work

Unlike TV crimes that are neatly solved in less than an hour, the real work of forensic psychology professionals takes patience and persistence—and often, the expertise developed through an on-campus or online master’s degree in psychology program. And even though Criminal Minds comes closer to real life than other shows, forensic psychology professionals are seldom criminal profilers. Dr. Beyer actually advises online psychology degree students to consider a career in law enforcement if they want to be profilers.

Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program

Walden’s online MS in Forensic Psychology degree program focuses on practical knowledge and critical thinking skills that can be applied daily in a variety of settings. Students learn how to navigate different venues in the legal system and get results.

“Our non-licensure program fills a niche for students who don’t want to be psychology clinicians,” Dr. Beyer emphasized. “Our faculty provides students with the advanced education and skill set needed to conduct training, manage programs, teach, or be consultants.”

MS in Forensic Psychology Program Highlights

  • In addition to the General and Self-Designed programs, nine specializations allow students to concentrate their coursework in a specific forensic area as they earn their degree online. These specializations include: Criminal Justice Self Designed, Cybercrimes, Family Violence, Legal Issues in Forensic Psychology, Military, Police Psychology, Sex Offender Behavior, Terrorism, and Victimology.
  • Innovative multimedia technology helps students experience simulated crime investigations, mock trials, case studies, and more.
  • Observational field experience gives students 60 hours of on-site exposure to the nature of work in different forensic psychology settings.

Career Options for Forensic Psychologists

Online master’s programs in forensic psychology can prepare students for rewarding careers as law enforcement officers, probation officers, case managers, program managers, court liaisons, jury consultants, and other challenging forensic psychology careers.*

Career Advice From a Former FBI Psychologist

  • Take advantage of internships.
    Being an intern at the Federal Bureau of Investigation gave Dr. Beyer a competitive edge over other job candidates and helped her land a full-time position with the agency.
  • Create your own opportunities.
    The diverse ways of applying your MS in Forensic Psychology are limited only by your imagination and creativity. If you’re interested in this field, you can design your own career path. “There is nothing particularly unique about me,” Dr. Beyer said candidly, “but I had the passion to pursue what I wanted. I persevered. You can create those opportunities, too.”
  • One final comment about those TV drama shows.
    Dr. Beyer considers crime shows as great marketing tools for the field of forensic psychology, and great inspiration for those researching online master’s in psychology programs. “Even though real life may not look as glamorous and exciting as crime shows, forensic psychologists do important work every day, contributing to a discipline that solves violent crimes, brings down terrorists, and keeps people’s lives safer. The nature of the real work of forensic psychologists is essential and interesting, and you can be a change-maker in the system and contribute in a very meaningful way,” Dr. Beyer said.

Explore Walden University's online MS in Forensic Psychology program to launch, advance, or change the direction of your career. Earn your graduate degree in a flexible online format that fits your busy life.

*Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of this degree program.

The MS in Forensic Psychology is not a licensure program and does not prepare an individual to become a licensed psychology professional.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,