How much do forensic psychologists earn?

I’ve been asked more than once how much a forensic psychologist can expect to earn. That is, what is the typical or average annual income of a forensic psychologist?

This is not an unreasonable question. It would be prudent for anyone who is considering a forensic practice to ask what one might expect to earn in this line of work.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the question. Here is why: As far as I am aware, there are no published surveys of full or part-time forensic psychologists asking them to disclose the amount they earn from their forensic practice, whether they are working as independent practitioners, or whether they are employed by a governmental agency or some other entity that provides forensic services.

In the absence of reliable survey data from a national sample, it would be sheer speculation to say that you can expect an annual income of any particular amount from working as a forensic psychologist.

Even so, I can say from my own experience that if you decide to develop your own independent practice, several factors will determine how much you are likely to earn. Before listing these factors, let me say that virtually all of the forensic practitioners I have known fall into one of two categories:

(1) Those who do forensic work exclusively within the context of an independent practice, and

(2) Those who do forensic work as an adjunct to some other kind of work, such as providing psychotherapy or teaching.

In short, doing forensic work is ordinarily not an “either-or” proposition, at least at the outset. It is not unusual for university faculty members to supplement their salaries with forensic work. Similarly, it is not unusual for psychologists who spend most of their time providing treatment or conducting assessments to engage in forensic work to supplement their income.

Now, as to factors that determine what you can expect to earn from your own forensic practice:

• How much you earn will depend on the hourly fee you charge for your forensic work, and on your annual billable hours.

• Your hourly fee will probably depend at least in part on the geographic area in which you practice; e.g., whether you practice in a large metropolitan area — where fees tend to be relatively high — or whether you practice in a rural or semi-rural area.

• The hourly fee you are able to charge will also depend at least in part on your experience and reputation.

• Your number of billable hours will almost certainly depend on the number and complexity of your cases. Your caseload will be limited by the demand for your services, which in turn will depend on your experience and reputation, and on your marketing efforts.

In summary, the amount you earn from a forensic practice can vary greatly. On the one hand, an experienced and well-respected forensic expert with a caseload large enough to produce, say, 20 hours of billable work per week will probably earn a comfortable income. Depending on one’s hourly rate, such a caseload could produce what might be called a very comfortable income. To learn more on how to enjoy a six-figure income as a forensic psychologist, read my blog on how much a forensic psychologist can make.

On the other hand, a psychologist who is in the process of developing a forensic practice, or who practices in an area where forensic opportunities are limited, will probably need supplemental earnings from a psychotherapy practice or from teaching or other work.

Generally speaking, I believe that if you prepare yourself thoroughly, and if you cultivate the personal qualities required of a good forensic practitioner, your reputation will flourish and you will soon be in demand. Once you are in demand, you will have all the work you need or want.

If you have questions, please contact me. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Shirley Feldman-Summers, Ph.D.


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