The camera captures a shadowy figure, cloaked by night, watching from the cover of trees, with the steady gaze of a predator he tracks his prey. Anticipation builds in the audience as he leaps upon his unsuspecting victim! Cue ominous background music. Camera pans to the obviously deceased, yet beautiful face of a woman, statuesque, languidly posed over a crushed velvet chaise in an expansive, immaculate home. Hair perfect, skin flawless, lipstick meticulously smeared, delicately inferring the indecencies that occurred before her untimely demise.

Photo by Steven Van on Unsplash

For the next 45 minutes, quirky, good-looking, gun wielding geniuses come together to solve the crime. With mind-blowing expertise and witty banter, they identify the murderer, down to personality pathology, height, weight, shoe size, and favorite ice cream. Captivated fans of shows such as these often ask if being a forensic psychologist is anything like what is portrayed on television. While I want to say, “YES!  Of course I solve crimes within about an hour with my obvious genius and wit” (please read sarcasm). Sadly, I am merely human, with a desire to help, more questions than answers, and a penchant for hoarding as much information and research as I can.

Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash

Forensic psychology is a broad field that encompasses both psychology and law. Psychologists can work in a variety of settings ranging between research and practice. On the research end of the spectrum, forensic psychologists may work within academic settings: teaching, and researching any aspect of the field. Whereas, those working within applied forensic psychology have a myriad opportunities to provide treatment, evaluation, and expert testimony in any setting in which psychology interacts with the law. Some psychologists decide to work within law enforcement where they can help police officers and provide pre-employment evaluations, trainings, and crisis management. Other psychologists may work with judges and attorneys, providing consultations, psychological evaluations, and expert testimony. While others may decide to work in prisons, providing inmates with much needed treatment, evaluation, and parole recommendations. There are many more opportunities, but I am told I have a word limit. 🙂

The graduate Forensic Psychology program at CBU allows students the opportunity to learn from instructors who are all active in the academic and applied field of forensic psychology. Our program is unique and diverse, providing students the opportunity to conduct research and explore application through one-year practicum placements. Students are introduced to the FBI, Secret Service, National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, and various other organizations, which allow for internship opportunities and career development. Students in the program are engaged in a rigorous academic program that challenges them both professionally and personally. When students graduate the program, we hope that they leave with more questions than answers, with the tools to explore, and the compassion to meet people at their humanity.

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I happen to work within both academic and applied settings. In the academic spectrum, I am able to teach within CBU’s graduate forensic psychology programs and I conduct research on psychopathy and psychotic disorders. The courses I teach range from Advanced Psychopathology and Criminality, Biological Bases of Behavior, to Research Methods and Criminal Profiling. On the applied front, I provide treatment and evaluations for individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses, conduct and present research and trainings, as well as act as a consultant for active cases that require psychological profiling. My education and career has afforded me opportunities that I could have never imagined. My education and career has afforded me opportunities that I could have never imagined. As I continually confront new and complicated questions born out of forensic psychology, I have opportunities to learn, develop new understanding, and participate in the research that helps me and others address important issues facing our society. To be sure, there are times that I feel overwhelmed and frightened by what I see and hear. However, in exploring the darkness of humanity, I am constantly reminded of all the goodness, hidden in the strangest of places.

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Forensic Psychology is not for everyone and that is OK! However, it is a field that you will do well in if you have an inquisitive mind, a compassionate heart, an amazing (sometimes-dark) sense of humor, can roll with the punches (sometimes literal… depending on where you work) and strength in grace. I hope that this post shed a little light on the field. Should you read this and have any further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to your friendly, neighborhood Forensic Psychologists!

Jenny E. Aguilar, PsyD is an Assistant Professor of Psychology who has been teaching in the Graduate Forensic Psychology Program at CBU for the last 7 years. She is also a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, who works in a private forensic practice.

Check out the other posts in the series here: