When thinking about five characteristics of forensic psychologists, students considering this field should think beyond grades and test-taking to the arena of temperament. According to the American Psychological Association, the successful forensic psychologist takes to police stations, courtrooms and corrections facilities like a duck to water. As professionals who work with those in the throes of the criminal and civil judicial systems, forensic psychologists should possess certain innate qualities.
1. Work Ethic
A forensic psychologist finds employment diverse settings, from courts and legislative committees to administrative agencies and insurance companies. Myriad parties require the assessments of trained practitioners in this specialty, and require them often. Forensic psychologists regularly deliver oral and written reports on witnesses, defendants, claimants and police officers, to name a few subjects. These evaluations range from flight risk assessments to analyses of the potential for violence; from appraisals of truthfulness to recommendations for appropriate sentencing. Such questions require extensive research and meticulous understanding. This is not the work for sluggards, which is why work ethic is the first of five characteristics of forensic psychologists.
2. Attention to Detail
Psychologists are trained to notice subtleties. Minor gestures, vocal inflections and patterns of conversation give clues about a client’s state of mind. It is crucial that the professional therapist, for example, apprehend a client’s cadence in speech in order to measure reactions. How much more so for the forensic psychologist, the results of whose work can mean prison versus freedom, payments versus cash awards? Of course, attention to detail can be a learned skill. At the same time, some are more facile with this skill than others, excelling at this second of five characteristics for forensic psychologists.
3. Penchant for Organization
As stated above, the typical forensic psychologist is under pressure to produce all kinds of information. While work ethic is essential, this virtue can be blunted if the psychologist is not organized. In short, this means planning the work and working the plan. As with anything forensic, emergencies can arise from seemingly out of nowhere. Yet this makes thorough planning and execution of the routine work all the more important. How much time does a child’s interview take in a custody case and how long to synthesize the related interviews into one report for the family court judge? Optimizing time is central to the work of a forensic psychologist.
4. Stoic Approach
The issues engaged by a forensic psychologist are frequently emotional ones. Capital cases often involve grisly narratives of rape and murder. Even civil cases present questions of justice that may bankrupt one party while enriching another. The psychologist is retained to render the most dispassionate and objective analysis, rooted in science and devoid of emotion. This expectation might be easy for Star Trek’s Mr. Spock but it is a challenge for humans. The good news is that those who possess the five characteristics of forensic psychologist practice a stoic approach to their work, putting personal feelings aside when gathering and presenting their findings.
5. Critical Thinking
If keen observation is one of the five characteristics of forensic psychologists, it stands to reason that critical thinking must follow. Interpreting the behavior of a convicted felon appealing a sentence is more than just noticing it. Placing it, then, in proper context helps the psychologist to analyze the behavior and explain it to the proper authorities. Drawing inferences and understanding one’s own limitations are also key to this skill set.
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Many of these traits benefit employees in every profession. Yet, taken together, they are prerequisites for success as five characteristics of forensic psychologists.