Published: 13 June 2019
Being a forensic psychologist can be challenging, but rewarding at the same time. You could be working with prisoners, or giving evidence in court as an expert witness. It's safe to say that no two days will be the same. We spoke with BSc (Hons) Forensic Psychology Programme Leader Dr Laura Farrugia about being a forensic psychologist and why Sunderland's course is unique.
"There is so much risk involved if we include real-life practical sessions"
According to The British Psychological Society (BPS), to become a forensic psychologist you need the following qualifications:
- Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC), which is achieved by completing a Society accredited degree or conversion course
- Society accredited Masters in Forensic Psychology
- Stage 2 of the Society’s Qualification in Forensic Psychology
In order to use the title Forensic Psychologist, you will need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This will involve completing Stage 2 of the Society's Qualification in Forensic Psychology or an equivalent qualification that has been approved by the HCPC.
In September 2018, the University of Sunderland introduced BSc Forensic Psychology and appointed Dr Laura Farrugia as its Programme Leader:
"The course itself is designed to be informative but also practical. You will practice different research skills, and in seminars we often welcome guest speakers that work in the forensic field to try and give students that real-life, applied aspect to the course as well.
"It’s quite difficult to include real-life practical sessions as part of the course. There is so much risk involved. We couldn’t take students to prison for example, but the course is still quite new (the first cohort started in September 2018) so we hope there will be more practical elements as the course goes on.
"For example, we do mock court visits in collaboration with the Law School and encourage students to go to court themselves. We also consider real-life case studies in the classroom and we do that in a very controlled way because of the type of material that we are dealing with.
"Some of the guest speakers bring real-life footage. A chief inspector recently visited and brought some footage of an incident that he was involved in, so although we can’t quite let students run loose yet, we do try and bring as much as of the real-world into the course as we can. We create a very controlled and safe environment for students."
"The Making a Murderer documentary is a good example of how not to interrogate someone"
As a forensic psychologist, you will mainly assess and treat criminals, and you may also be called to court as an expert witness.
"The prison service is probably the biggest employer of forensic psychologists. If you work in a prison, you are going to work with offenders that might have committed quite serious crimes such as murder or manslaughter, but you could also be working with youth offenders.
"In terms of your role as a forensic psychologist, you are there to assess the person in terms of their mental health needs, what treatment they might need, and deliver the treatment programmes. The type of treatment depends on the type of offence.
"For example, with a sex offender, you are assessing their needs to hopefully prevent them from reoffending and you are involved in delivering treatment programmes for them.
"As an expert witness, it’s very different. I have a colleague who is an expert in police interviewing and he often gets calls from defence, prosecution or barristers and will be asked to provide an expert opinion on the way a child was interviewed by the police for example, or the accuracy of their memories.
"He would gather all the interviews, assess and analyse them, and then be required to go to court and give his expert opinion on whether the police met all the requirements, followed all the guidance in terms of interviewing that child, if they used the right type of question, if they led the child and so on.
"The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer is a good example of how not to interrogate someone. So as forensic psychologists we would have a field day with how Brendan Dassey was interrogated and then falsely confessed," Dr Farrugia says.
It’s a very challenging field so don’t be disheartened or put off with any setbacks because it's very competitive. You've just got to keep going with it."
Dr Laura Farrugia
Programme Leader, BSc Forensic Psychology
"No two days will be the same"
Psychology is a very competitive field so being persistent is one of the qualities you will need to succeed. Also, it can be very mentally challenging so resilience is the other big quaility that you need to possess.
Dr Laura says: "You have to be enthusiastic and you have to acknowledge that no two days will be the same. You have to be prepared to deal with some of the most horrible stuff. So if you work with offenders, you have to be non-judgemental. You are there to do a job, you can’t let your own feelings interfere with that relationship that you have with an offender.
"You will be exposed to quite a lot of nasty stuff, so you have to be thick-skinned, but that comes with experience. You just have to have a passion to do it. As long as you have a passion to do it, and you are interested and engaged with it then you will do well.
"It’s a very challenging field so don’t be disheartened or put off with any setbacks because it's very competitive. You've just got to keep going with it."
"We have something at this university that I'm not sure other places have"
Despite being a new course, BSc Forensic Psychology at the University of Sunderland has plenty to offer.
"Students should feel equipped once they finish this course because we cover everything in forensic psychology. Right from the minute a crime is reported and the impact of that crime on the victim, to how it is investigated, the trial process and offender assessment and treatment.
"It really gives our students a great insight into all the different contexts they can work in as a forensic psychologist and it should give them a really good grounding in terms of their knowledge.
"We have just started a forensic research lab group which is a volunteering opportunity for our students to gain additional research skills, but they are also dealing with real-life experimental or interview data.
"They are learning the research skills in class and what they are able to do in this lab group is develop those skills further whilst using and analysing real-life data. That’s something that we have at this university that I'm not sure other places have.
"If you're looking for somewhere to study forensic psychology and are a bit unsure then come and speak to anyone in our team, we are more than happy to talk you through your options. You could also have a look on the BPS website.
"It has a lot of information about different routes. If you want to study at one of the most enthusiastic universities in the North East then you have to come to Sunderland," Dr Laura concludes.
In addition to being Programme Leader for the BSc Forensic Psychology course, Dr Laura Farrugia is Module Leader for Introduction to Forensic Psychology and The Psychology of Detection, Interviewing and the Criminal Trial.
Some of our Psychology courses are accredited by the British Psychological Society as conferring Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership, provided the minimum standard of a second class honours is achieved. This is the first step towards becoming a Chartered Psychologist in one of eight areas recognised by the British Psychological Society.