What Makes Forensic Psychologists Different From Other Psychologists?

Today’s post is brought to you by a guest blogger, Roxana Sue Huxley. Roxana reached out to me recently and asked if she could share some content to Resiliency Mental Health.

Roxana is a writer who has written pieces on mental health in the past, and she is sharing today some information on forensic psychology and what special training makes someone a forensic psychologist.

Forensic psychology is a relatively new field. It involves the application of psychological principles in the legal arena, thus forming an intersection between human behavior and the law. Forensic psychologists provide critical input as psychology elevates understanding and provides perspectives on many wide-ranging issues like child abuse, sexual offenses, and mental illnesses.

But while their practice is in psychology, forensic psychologists require further specialized training to carry out their unique tasks. Here’s what you need to know about how they are trained, who they work with, and what they do.


General psychology curriculums focus on major content areas in psychology. This includes general theories and basic research methods applicable to the field. Courses commonly involve developmental, cognitive, social, and clinical psychology, as well as neural studies.

Forensic psychologists, on the other hand, study more than just general psychology. They also require more specialized training, which is why forensic psychology degrees also offer experiential learning opportunities and course work in criminal justice and the social sciences. This makes forensic psychology degrees much more specialized. Not only do they acquire a broad understanding of human behavior, they also know how to apply psychological principles legally and socially.

Patient Base

Clinical and counseling psychologists often work one-on-one with patients. They focus on treating mental health conditions or counseling patients. From here, they identify and address stressors that may be causing patients difficulty. Generally, however, psychologists with particular specialties work with a specific patient base and apply varying methods conducive to their cases. Recreation therapists utilize activity-based interventions to make therapy more enjoyable, while military psychologists work with service members and their families to help them cope with the stress associated with military life. Similarly, forensic psychologists provide counseling, particularly to victims of crime. They can also extend therapy services to individuals convicted of crimes.


Most psychologists provide counseling and treatment in varying settings, including schools, hospitals, clinics, and community organizations. Because forensic psychologists work in the legal sector, they usually work in prisons, hospitals, medical examiners’ offices, forensic labs, police stations, research centers, and universities. They can also serve as consultants.

Forensic psychologists use psychological assessments to help determine the outcome of legal cases. For instance, they can assess how fit a parent is for child custody or whether an offender should leave prison or should remain incarcerated. They might also be in charge of observing and interviewing those involved in cases, writing reports and research articles, and providing expert psychological testimonies in court.

In these cases, criminal psychologists have a similar role to forensic psychologists. But whereas criminal psychology focuses on criminal behavior, forensic psychologists are trained in criminal and civil law. This makes the forensic psychologist more suited to operating outside the justice system — specifically when it comes to social work.

Skills Needed

All psychologists deal with human behavior. This means they must be empathetic and compassionate. However, forensic psychologists have to balance these characteristics with objectivity. This is because their assessments are taken seriously from a legal standpoint. Ultimately, they can determine critical factors in the lives of both the victims and the perpetrators of a crime. Because criminal justice cases can be pressure cookers, forensic psychologists must also possess strong mental fortitude.

Forensic psychologists require extensive training to carry out their tasks successfully. While the job can be challenging, forensic psychologists ensure that the criminal justice system carries out investigations and decisions with the utmost consideration.

Post contributed by Roxana Sue Huxley for resiliencymentalhealth.com

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. She completed her internship at the National Psychology Training Consortium with specializations in assessment and rural mental health. Currently, she specializes in trauma-informed and neurodiversity-affirming care, and she is certified in telemental health. Dr. Marschall runs a private practice, RMH Therapy, where she provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological assessments across the lifespan. Dr. Amy Marschall is an author and professional speaker.