How a forensic psychology bachelor’s can grow your communication skills

Forensic psychologists need to be excellent communicators. Their clinical expertise is in the “psychological assessment of individuals who are involved, in one way or another, with the legal system,” according to Jane Ward, Ph.D. a forensic psychologist and psychotherapist.

Communication is critical to performing that role. Clinical forensic psychologists must interview patients, write reports, share data with colleagues or present testimony in court. They must be able to analyze people and share their findings in a way that persons without a psychology background can understand. This requires strong communication skills. Additionally, active listening, social perceptiveness and public speaking are all important competencies forensic psychologists should possess.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data reported on by O*Net OnLine, the median salary for this position is $75,090. Even projected job growth for forensic psychologists is high at 10 percent to 14 percent as employers are looking for qualified candidates to fill approximately 12,000 positions or more by 2026.

Before pursuing this career, prospective professionals should consider how forensic psychology programs from an accredited university can help them develop skills needed for the field—such as communication.

Forensic psychology: clinical work

Despite what people may think, forensic psychology is not limited to analyzing criminals. The American Psychological Association defines forensic psychology as “the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena.” This can mean using clinical skills such as assessment, treatment and evaluation in any legal or forensic area. For example, Elizabeth Loftus’ studies on eyewitness identification, in which she examines how the wording of a question and certain visual imagery can influence a person’s testimony, fall in this category, even though criminals aren’t directly part of her research. In practice, forensic psychology can involve anyone dealing with the legal system such as jurors, witnesses, judges, and lawyers.

Because this field falls at the intersection of clinical and legal practice, communication could be considered a forensic psychologist’s most important skill. In this role, you may interact with a wide variety of people, including investigators, lawyers, suspects, victims and witnesses of all ages, judges, jurors, media and other psychologists. As such, the ability to interact with people of various professional backgrounds will be important to your success.

Forensic psychologists need strong verbal communication skills to interact with both individuals and groups. Over the course of your career, you may need to hold investigative or counseling sessions to determine a suspect’s mental health or a witness’s ability to stand in court. In these cases, you must be adept at gaining a person’s trust and influencing them to open up.

As a forensic psychologist, you may even be asked to testify during a case, either reporting your findings or commenting on general psychological knowledge. Despite the pressure or tension that can often be present in a courtroom, you’ll need the ability to communicate in front of an audience while keeping your statements neutral.

Written communication skills are just as important as you’ll also need to write assessments, evaluations and recommendations ordered by the courts. To do so, you’ll have to effectively describe the behaviors you witnessed in a report. Your statements must be objective and well written to provide the most accurate account possible.

Above all, your communication needs to be unbiased. As a forensic psychologist, your job isn’t to accuse or defend; it’s to use your clinical skill set to inform the pursuit of justice.

Bachelor of Science vs. Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology

To study forensic psychology as an undergraduate, you can explore two options: a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science. The differences between the two may seem subtle at first, but they can lead to different career outcomes. The one you choose depends on whether you want a specific career as a forensic psychologist or if you want to apply your skills to a broad range of industries.

If the latter approach fits your interests, consider pursuing a BA. This will provide an education that is primarily focused on the liberal arts, so it’s a good option if you want a background in psychology that can lead to a variety of careers. BA in forensic psychology programs can expose students to the various possible roles in the legal system, helping students decide which career to pursue. You may end up working in mental health, criminal justice, administration, police work or other areas.

BS degrees in forensic psychology offer the same core as a BA but with additional scientific training and math courses. In this way, a BS can lead to greater depth of knowledge in the biological and neuroscientific aspects of psychology. You may need this information throughout your career, both for research and clinical purposes.

The math, science and lab courses may also better prepare you to enter a graduate program, which is typically required in forensic psychology. With this degree, you can graduate ready for master’s programs or careers involving clinical, legal and psychological research.

Regardless of which option you choose, the courses in forensic psychology programs are designed to help improve the skills, such as communication, that are crucial to this profession.

Classes and coursework that improve communication skills

Many components of forensic psychology programs are created with communication in mind. The curriculum integrates written—and, where possible, verbal—assignments and training, which may help you develop the specialties needed to communicate with others. Additionally, the legal focus may force you to consider the implications of your statements—how the words you say on the stand or write in reports lead to certain outcomes for suspects, defendants and the community—thereby teaching you to choose your words with the utmost care.

In a forensic psychology program, you may also complete classes in:

Research methods

This can provide you with the foundation of how research is conducted, including priorities and techniques for writing reports. These courses can help you develop objectivity, which is necessary for communicating in a legal setting.

Substantive criminal law

In these classes, you can learn the implications of policy. The coursework can help you refine your communication skills so your statements (whether you’re on the stand or not) aren’t misinterpreted.

Statistical methods

Here, you will study how to distill large amounts of data into comprehensive reports that researchers, juries, judges and lawyers can understand.

Internships

An internship allows you to take the communication skills and strategies you learned in other courses and put them into practice. The hands-on experience can help you understand how to communicate in a professional setting.

Online forensic psychology programs from ASU

Both a BA in Forensic Psychology and a BS in Forensic Psychology can help you develop the communications skills necessary to succeed in a criminal justice career. Arizona State University provides both degrees in an online format, with the same learning outcomes and value as the on-campus programs. Faculty members have won awards in law and psychology, with their research even being cited in state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. With esteemed faculty and courses designed for your success, pursuing an online bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution such as ASU can be the first step in preparing for your career as a forensic psychologist.

Sources:
What is forensic psychology? By the American Psychological Association
ASU Online - Online Bachelor of Science in Psychology (Forensic Psychology)
ASU Online - Online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (Forensic Psychology)
Clinical Psychologists by O*Net OnLine

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