Forensic & Legal Psychology FAQs

What is forensic and legal psychology?


Forensic and legal psychology (or psychology and law) involves the application of scientific and professional aspects of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. This field encompasses contributions made in a number of different areas – research, practice, public policy and teaching/training among them – from a variety of orientations within the field of psychology.

While there is some disagreement in the field as to what is meant by forensic psychology (with some equating it to psychology and law), others define it as the application of clinical specialties (e.g., clinical and counseling psychology) to legal institutions and people who come in contact with the law. Forensic psychology is composed of such issues such as competency to stand trial, mental status at the time of the offense, violence risk assessment, and child custody and visitation.

Legal psychology refers to the application of experimental or research-oriented areas of psychology (e.g., social, cognitive, physiological) to legal issues. Legal psychology also includes the scientific study of the effect of laws on people and the effect people have on laws. Witness identification, deception detection, investigative interviewing, and trial consulting are just some of the issues that comprise legal psychology.

Forensic and legal psychology professionals work in a variety of areas, such as:

  • Law enforcement/intelligence
  • Corrections
  • Child and victim advocacy
  • Mitigation and sentencing
  • Jury consulting
  • Social/public policy
  • Psycholegal research

What is the M.A. in Forensic and Legal Psychology?


The program focuses on the application of all areas of psychology to the law and the legal system.

Courses in the program focus on such topics as:

  • Forensic assessment (e.g., competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, violence prediction)
  • Treatment of the juvenile offender
  • Eyewitness identification
  • Wrongful convictions
  • Deception detection
  • Intelligence
  • Terrorism
  • Jury decision-making
  • Legal reasoning skills
  • The legal system
  • The war on drugs
  • Capital punishment
  • Abortion
  • Prison conditions

Students must complete an internship selected from the wide-variety of applicable sites in the DC region.

Is an undergraduate degree in psychology required?


There is no specific undergraduate major requirement, but having a major or minor in psychology will be of benefit. It is, however, strongly recommended that applicants have taken a few courses in psychology, criminal justice, and criminology.

Is a master’s thesis required?


The program does not have a formalized thesis option and does not follow a mentorship model. Students are admitted into the program by committee rather than accepted to work with a particular faculty member.

Is there an internship requirement?


Yes, all students are required to complete a total of 300 hours. Students must enroll in, attend, and complete the requirements for FLP 599 during the same semester in which they complete their internship requirement.

Internship opportunities exist with federal, local, corporate, legal, and nonprofit organizations. Some examples include:

  • FBI (including its National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime)
  • Naval Criminal Investigative Service
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
  • Fairfax County Public Defender’s Office
  • Arlington County Police Department
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • Vera Institute of Justice
  • Northern Virginia Capital Defender’s Office

More information on the internship requirement can be found here.

How do I register for FLP 599 (Internship: Forensic and Legal Psychology)?


In order to enroll in FLP 599, students must first complete 18 program credits. Specific information regarding the internship requirements can be obtained from the coordinator of forensic and legal psychology internships. You cannot enroll yourself in FLP 599; only the coordinator can enroll you in this course.

  • Once a student has selected an internship that has been approved by the coordinator of forensic and legal psychology internships, an Internship Contract Request Form (obtained from the coordinator) must be completed and returned to the coordinator.
  • Once the internship agreement is created, the student and his/her internship site supervisor must sign this form and return it to the coordinator.
  • Malpractice insurance must also be obtained from the American Psychological Association (APA). Malpractice insurance can be purchased via the APA’s The Trust. This insurance is good for one year.
  • Upon acquiring the malpractice insurance, the student must provide the coordinator with a copy of the second page of the malpractice insurance policy.
  • Once the coordinator receives all of this paperwork, he/she will enroll the student in FLP 599.

Will I be a (forensic) psychologist after completing this program?


Not yet. Forensic psychologists must graduate from a psychology doctoral program which provides students with the coursework, practical, and internship experiences necessary to meet licensure requirements at the state level. Many state jurisdictions also require postdoctoral experience.

In certain states, the practice of professional psychology is limited to those who graduate from an APA-accredited doctoral program (e.g., clinical, counseling, school). Passing scores on exams (e.g., EPPP, state written or oral exam) are also required.

According to some, one must pursue additional training and credentialing (e.g., ABFP certification) before being able to call oneself a forensic psychologist.

What about criminal profiling?


Criminal profiling is just one of the vast issues and functions within the field, and comes with its own perils and limitations.

Will I receive clinical training in this program?


This program does not offer specialized clinical training, and graduates will not be able to conduct therapy, clinical assessment, or other practices that require a license.

Can I be licensed as a clinical psychologist or counselor after graduating from this program?


This program does not offer courses in clinical assessment or counseling; therefore, students are not eligible for licensure as a counselor (LPC) after graduating from the program. Typically one must have a doctorate before being eligible for licensure as a clinical psychologist.

Students who are interested in pursuing a career in counseling should consider the dual program, in which students earn dual M.A. degrees in clinical mental health counseling and forensic and legal psychology. Students who complete this option would be eligible for licensure as an LPC.

Is this program APA-accredited?


No. The APA accredits only doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology.

What global education opportunities are available?


Program faculty have led trips to London, Israel/Palestine, The Netherlands, Cambodia, Prague, and Sweden. More information on these opportunities can be found here.

When are classes offered?


Most courses are offered in mid-afternoon (3:30), as well as the evening (6:30). A few are also offered early afternoon (12:30). All required courses are offered during both the fall and spring semesters (in 2 hour 45 minute blocks, once per week), with a few also offered during the shorter summer sessions. Some courses are also offered in intensive one-week formats (during the summer and the week prior to the spring semester). Elective courses are offered once per academic year (including the summer sessions). While every effort is made to offer every elective every year, this is not always possible.

It is unlikely that students will be able to complete the program in a timely fashion taking only evening classes.

Current class offerings can be found here.

Is the program available in an online format?


No. The Forensic and Legal Psychology MA is an on-ground/face-to-face program. While individual courses may occasionally be offered in a hybird or online format, students will not be able to complete the program online.

Where are classes and the program located?


The program and classes are located at Marymount’s Ballston Center, approximately 1.5 miles from the Main Campus. Free Marymount shuttle service connects the Center with the Ballston-MU Metro Station and Main Campus.

What types of careers do students obtain once they graduate?


Alumni have secured employment in a variety of positions, including:

  • Correctional counselor/specialist
  • Correctional officer
  • Crime analyst
  • Court diversion coordinator
  • Intelligence analyst
  • INTERPOL analyst
  • Investigative analyst
  • Juvenile justice reform program manager
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Mitigation specialist
  • Policy analyst
  • Pretrial services officer
  • Probation/parole officer
  • Research analyst
  • Sentencing advocate
  • Sex offender supervisor
  • Suicidology researcher
  • Trial consultant
  • Victim specialist

Locations where alumni have obtained employment include:

  • American Association of Suicidology
  • Arlington County Police Department
  • Arlington County Probation and Parole
  • Center for Clinical and Forensic Services
  • Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency
  • Department of State
  • DC Metropolitan Police Department
  • Drug Enforcement Agency
  • Fairfax County Adult Detention Center
  • Fairfax County Child Protective Services
  • Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation-National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Jury Services, Inc.
  • Justice Policy Institute
  • Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Northern Virginia Capital Defender’s Office
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
  • National Institute of Justice
  • Naval Criminal Investigative Services
  • Naval Research Laboratory
  • Offender Aid and Restoration
  • Police Executive Research Forum
  • Transportation Security Administration
  • Virginia Indigent Defense Commission

How are advisors assigned?


Advisors are assigned based on the first letter of last names.

  • A-D* – Dr. Erin McNett
  • E-H* – Prof. Linda Millis
  • I-L* – Dr. Holly Hargeaves-Cormany
  • M-P – Dr. Jason Doll
  • Q-Z* – Dr. Mary Lindahl

* If it was noted in your acceptance letter that your admission is provisional, then Dr. Jason Doll is your adviser regardless of your last name.

How do I get information on upcoming events or changes with the program?


All students should subscribe to the forensic and legal psychology listserv once they have enrolled in the program, allowing them to interact with faculty and each other. The link to subscribe can be obtained from your academic advisor.

When filling out the online request, be sure not to check the “yes” box for receiving email in a daily digest format; otherwise, you will not receive attachments. After you complete the online form, you will receive an email from the program’s graduate assistant requesting that you confirm your status in the program.

Will choosing the Intelligence Studies Concentration (ISC) allow me to work in the Intelligence Community (IC) upon graduation?


The ISC provides students with important entry-level skill sets that are of interest to employers in the IC and private sector companies that support it. However, these jobs also require security clearances as part of the employee screening process granted by the individual agencies in the IC. The clearance process involves a background investigation and, for some positions, a polygraph exam. Some internships may offer the opportunity to obtain a clearance prior to graduation.

What is the Intelligence Community?


The Intelligence Community is a collection of Executive Branch agencies, departments and military service units that work separately and together to conduct intelligence activities to support policymakers’ decisions in the formulation of U.S. national security policy.

The IC is composed of, or involved with, the:

  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Defense Intelligence Agency
  • National Geospatial Intelligence Agency
  • National Reconnaissance Office
  • National Security Agency
  • National Security Branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Drug Enforcement Agency
  • Department of State
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Each branch of the military

For what types of careers/positions will the ISC prepare students?


The ISC will prepare students for analytic jobs in the IC and the private sector companies that support it. The role of the intelligence analyst in the IC may range from analysis of strategic global issues to tactical assessments and analysis, to support of ongoing military and intelligence operations.

Another type of analytic job category is targeting. Targeters focus on supporting units tasked to conduct operations against specific intelligence objectives, such as terrorists and drug traffickers.

The ISC would also provide a good background for those students interested in working in areas that guide the collection and dissemination of intelligence throughout the IC.

What is intelligence analysis?


Intelligence analysis is the careful assessment and processing of various types of incoming information to arrive at some estimate to forecast future events or outcomes. The analyst employs critical thinking and structured analytic techniques to determine the probability of the development or likelihood that a particular event will occur.

The analysis may address day-to-day events referred to as “current intelligence.” Other types of analysis may include trend analysis, long term assessments, warning intelligence, and scientific and technical intelligence. Although a broad range of specialized skill-sets is required in the IC, the basic skill that undergirds all the specialties is critical thinking.

What is the Intelligence Studies Advisory Group (AG)?


An eleven member committee composed of current and former senior-level Intelligence Community officials meant to assist in and guide the development of the Intelligence Studies Concentration curriculum.

The functions of the AG include ensuring that course content of established courses and the development of future courses in the concentration are aligned with the current and future needs of the Intelligence Community to enhance student employability upon graduation.

The AG is also active in identifying internship opportunities for students, as well as being a direct source of mentorship for students seeking careers in the Intelligence Community. In addition, the AG and their network of contacts will provide students with the chance to establish and build relationships with intelligence professionals who would be well-positioned to direct them to employment opportunities that match the skill sets developed in the Intelligence Studies Concentration.