Forensic Psychologist

Job Description:

Forensic psychologists explore problems associated with criminal behaviour and the treatment of those who have committed offences.

Job Category:
Health Care & Social Assistance

What you will do:

You’ll use your specialist knowledge of psychological theory and criminal behaviour to:

  • support police investigations through criminal profiling
    rehabilitate and treat offenders or patients in prisons, high security hospitals and specialist mental health residential units
  • support prison staff and other professionals within the welfare or criminal and civil justice systems
  • carry out research to improve and develop professional practice

You’ll work with offenders to help them understand and overcome their problems and behaviour patterns. Your day-to-day tasks may include:

  • preparing specialist risk assessments for offenders
  • advising on the best location for prisoners
  • developing treatment and rehabilitation programmes
  • providing psychological therapy
  • offering expert advice to parole boards, mental health
  • review tribunals or court cases
  • producing formal written reports
  • helping to write policies and strategies
  • training and mentoring new and trainee psychologists
  • finding ways to reduce stress and improve life inside prisons

You’ll work closely with a wide range of people, including prison officers, psychiatrists, violent or sexual offenders, young people and high-risk offenders with severe personality disorders.


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of psychology
  • counselling skills including active listening and a non-judgemental approach
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently

As well as

  • excellent communication and listening skills
  • resilience, with the ability to deal with the risk of physical or verbal assault
  • the ability to understand people’s reactions
  • good problem-solving and decision-making skills (leadership skills)
  • excellent research skills, with the ability to analyse and present clinical and statistical data
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • excellent written communication skills
  • adaptable to changing environments
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a forensic psychologist in the UK, you will typically need to complete your GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and later progress to A-levels or equivalent qualifications, followed by a university degree. Here are some GCSE subjects that can be beneficial for pursuing a career as a forensic psychologist:

  1. English Language: Strong written and verbal communication skills are essential for any psychologist, as you’ll need to write reports, communicate with colleagues and clients, and testify in court.
  2. Mathematics: A good grasp of mathematical concepts is beneficial, as it helps with data analysis and statistical work, which is a common aspect of psychology research.
  3. Science (Biology or Chemistry): A solid foundation in science, particularly biology or chemistry, can be helpful because it provides insight into the biological and chemical factors that can affect behavior and mental health.
  4. Psychology (if available): Some schools offer GCSE-level psychology courses. Taking one can give you an early introduction to the field and help you decide if it’s the right path for you.
  5. Sociology or Criminology (if available): While not commonly offered at the GCSE level, taking a sociology or criminology course can introduce you to the study of human behavior, social structures, and criminal justice systems, which are all relevant to forensic psychology.
  6. Additional Sciences or Humanities: Broadening your knowledge base with other subjects like physics, history, or sociology can also be valuable because forensic psychology involves understanding the broader social and scientific context of criminal behavior.

Remember that GCSEs provide a general education and are typically followed by A-levels or equivalent qualifications. To become a forensic psychologist in the UK, you would typically pursue the following educational path:

A-levels or equivalent: After completing your GCSEs, you would typically progress to A-levels (or their equivalents), and it is here that you can choose subjects more directly related to psychology, such as A-level Psychology. Other relevant subjects may include Biology or Sociology.

Post School

  1. Undergraduate Degree: To become a forensic psychologist, you would need to complete a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. This degree typically takes three years, and during this time, you’ll study various aspects of psychology, including clinical and forensic psychology.
  2. Postgraduate Study: Many forensic psychologists pursue a Master’s or Doctorate in forensic psychology or a related field. This further specialization is essential for entering the forensic psychology profession.

It’s crucial to note that entry requirements may vary by university and program, so it’s advisable to check the specific requirements of the universities or colleges you’re interested in attending. Additionally, gaining practical experience, such as internships or work placements in forensic settings, is highly valuable for a career in forensic psychology.

You’ll need:

  • An accredited degree in psychology, leading to Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC)
  • An approved programme of training (by the Health Professions Council of the country within which you intend to practise), leading to registration as a forensic psychologist
  • If you’re a graduate in a subject other than Psychology, you may be able to become eligible for GBC with an accredited conversion course.

Once you have an accredited degree, you’ll need a postgraduate qualification in forensic psychology. You’ll also need to register with the Health Professions Council of the country within which you intend to practise .

You can do this by completing one of the following:

  • An accredited Master’s in Forensic Psychology, followed by a Qualification in Forensic Psychology Stage 2
  • a Doctorate in Forensic Psychology

You’ll need to be able to show strong research skills and relevant work experience, like in a prison or within mental health services.

You could also start your career as an intervention facilitator or trainee forensic psychologist in your local prison services, then go on to work towards becoming a qualified psychologist.

Working Hours and Environment:

You’ll usually work 8.30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

You could be based in one location, or work across a number of sites like secure hospitals, prisons, rehabilitation units, secure and open residential units and police stations. You may also visit courts and tribunals to give expert witness testimony.

This work can be challenging and distressing and you may face physical and verbal abuse at times.

Career Path & Progression:

You could go on to run a prison psychology department, move into a policy and strategy-based role or a management post focusing on specific issues.

You could also move into freelance and consultancy work, for example as an expert witness.