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Can a Felon Become a Psychologist?

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Felons may think no one will hire them after being released from prison, but there are resources available. Some felons may have an interest in helping others deal with emotional and behavioral problems.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a psychologist.

  • What is a Psychologist?
  • What Education/Training Does a Psychologist Need?
  • How Much Does a Psychologist Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Psychologist?

A psychologist deals with thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behaviors. He or she uses observation and assessment to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence a person.

A psychologist typically does the following:

  • Conducts studies of behavior
  • Observes and interviews individuals
  • Identifies emotional or behavioral issues and patterns
  • Tests for patterns to understand and predict behavior
  • Discusses the treatment of problems with individuals
  • Writes reports and articles
  • Supervises counseling professionals

A psychologist looks for patterns of behavior or relationships between events and uses this information when testing theories or when treating patients. He or she also may administer tests:

  • Personality
  • Performance
  • Aptitude
  • Intelligence

There are many types of psychologists, including a(n):

  • Clinical psychologist – Assesses, diagnoses, and treats mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders
  • Counseling psychologist – Helps patients deal with and understand problems
  • Developmental psychologist – Studies the psychological processes throughout life
  • Forensic psychologist – Uses psychological principles in the legal system
  • Industrial–organizational psychologist – Applies psychology to the workplace
  • Rehabilitation psychologist – Works with physically- or developmentally-disabled individuals
  • School psychologist – Applies psychological principles to educational and developmental disorders

There are many essential skills to be successful as a psychologist:

  • Empathy to help people deal with problems
  • Listening skills to allow a person to share their issues
  • Patience to deal with a person’s emotions
  • Communication skills to be able to share information
  • Knowledge of various disorders and effective treatment options
  • Organizational skills to manage paperwork
  • Time-management skills to work in a stressful environment
  • Analytical skills to examine information
  • Integrity to keep a patient’s problems in confidence
  • Interpersonal skills to be able to work with patients and professionals
  • Observational skills to understand an individual’s actions
  • Problem-solving skills to find treatments for emotional and behavioral problems

What Education/Training Does a Psychologist Need?

Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. A Ph.D. in psychology is earned by completing required coursework and after taking a comprehensive exam and writing a dissertation based on original research.

A student also usually completes a one-year internship as part of a doctoral program.

He or she must pass an exam on the professional practice of psychology with specific state requirements outlined by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

In most states, working as a psychologist requires a license. In all states psychologists who practice independently must be licensed.

How Much Does a Psychologist Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are approximately 181,600 psychologists with 115,000 of these being licensed psychologists.

The median salary for a psychologist in 2021 was $81,040 annually. The median is that salary which half of the psychologists receive more than and half receive less.

Geographic location, certification, experience, and specialization could have a significant impact on these earnings. A psychologist on the East or West coast as well as in the Southwest region of the U.S. typically receives a higher salary than for one in other areas.

This occupation is expected to show a 6% growth by 2030, which is as fast as average.

An Opportunity for Felons?

A felon can pursue any degree he or she wants. Approximately 60% of colleges consider criminal history in their admissions process, although there is no standard policy regarding a background check.

Any felon that wants to get a degree in psychology can find a college that will accept him or her. A felon may have difficulty getting accepted into many schools, but there are psychology programs that will accept a felon.

Individuals who have criminal convictions on their records and are considering enrolling in doctoral programs in psychology may have their criminal history evaluated prior to enrollment. If they are eligible, they will be given a letter when it is time to apply.

While the requirements for felons becoming a psychologist differ somewhat depending on the state, certain factors are important. These criteria will be considered as to whether or not a crime relates to the occupation of a psychologist:

  • Nature and seriousness of the crime
  • Relationship of the crime to the duties and responsibilities of a psychologist
  • Whether a psychologist license might offer opportunity for further criminal activity
  • Extent and nature of past criminal activity
  • Age when the felony was committed
  • Amount of time since last criminal activity
  • Amount of time since release from incarceration
  • Conduct and work history before and after the conviction
  • Evidence of rehabilitation
  • Letters of recommendation

It is important to be honest when applying for licensing as a psychologist. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this constitutes fraud and is punishable. It is a crime to falsify an application which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful as a psychologist it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already viewed with negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a psychologist. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It is a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to become a psychologist. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding in becoming a psychologist.

Spending time in a volunteer role in the psychologist field initially to gain experience could be essential.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a psychologist with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Psychologist?”

  1. I believe we are the best people for the job, held back for a reason, people who became resilient, usually under far more difficult circumstances (nature&nurture)and demonstrated real change through education, but the reality of the world is that is not who they want. They want pampered, culturally sanitized and approved bots who can’t make alliances with clients(keeps em’ coming back, business baby). Ready to be fed the next corporate for-profit therapy. When we are the ones with actual, demonstrated applications of change, to offer the people who need it most a way out, to hand people the keys to freedom. Why? jealousy? Insecurity and irrational fear? more lack of belief in people or change, They don’t even believe in their products(demonstrated by their actions) if they did, we would have been their most important evidence. Who is the best agent for change? those who have changed.

  2. Thank you for putting this information together. I truly feel more confident in furthering my education and pursuing my career goals.

  3. Like Adam stated, I believe it is by design that felons are discouraged. I’m in favor of furnishing the extra information and doing extra work to get to where I want to be. I too believe that there needs to be some sense of security provided to make others feel safe about a felon who obtains a license. But why can’t I have a definitive answer as to whether I can be licensed before I spend the money and three years on a masters program.
    The course I looked into is comprehensive being three full years. I already have bachelors. This is a MA program. Anyone who applies themself to this much school, and spends their hard to come by money like this must be serious and not much more should be required. But lets just say I furnish the letter of recommendation, proof of volunteer work, and whatever else is required. I can go through all this and then be denied a license is what I understand to be going on here. I don’t want to take the chance.
    I attend church weekly and volunteer when asked by the church. I started to volunteer as a companion in the hospice environment, for no other reason than I was lead by my heart, not to put it on paper for someone. I can get as many letters of recommendations as I want because I’m in good standing and do well and do good.

    I wrote to the board of licensure in my state asking them for some kind of confirmation before I start school, crickets … I would have been happier with a sincere not likely or probably won’t work out for me or something.

    The sad part about this is that I can make more money doing what I’m currently doing for work. The reason why I would rather spend all this money and time to become a forensic counselor is because it would be fulfilling. To earn a living by helping those who really need help would bring me great joy. I have a sincere desire and prior to my incarceration I had thought very differently about felons. I had classified them much like many people create lines of division elsewhere. I came to look at all people in the same way. So I can honestly say that I benefitted from my incarceration. Not many inmates have this experience and change. This being said I would be an excellent counselor because I care.

    So to answer Pablos question, just go into the construction field and do your best. The sky is the limit and your expected to work in the construction field or trades where felons are still allowed. Get in before it gets difficult to do this too.

  4. I am currently on probation from a drug offense that I committed over a year ago and am nearly done with the requirements needed to finish as I am set to be on for 2 years (It has only been a couple of months so I am hoping that once I meet the requirements I will be let off early). I am a college student considering focusing on a bachelors in psychology but am conflicted as to whether I will be able to land a job in the future so if someone can reply to this with suggestions it would be much appreciated

    • Hello Pablo,
      It depends which state you are in. Where I am, Colorado, I had no problems getting into school and when I got a job at the community college I was attending I got a work study job, they ran a background check. I had to prove the rehabilitation measures I went through which was a lot. I have 5 felonies and served 2 years in CDOC on a 9 year sentence. None are violent.
      Anyway, I am going to a University now I hope they know, but I am not sure. I have always been honest about my past because it does not define me. What defines me is the hard work I put in in prison. I knew I needed to grow and dig deep to find the root of my problems. Drugs and alcohol were my issues not my problems. Incarceration was what I needed to remember who I am, which is an empath that didn’t know how to deal with stuff because I was not taught these things. I was taught that drugs, abuse, alcohol, hatred, and all the stuff that is not normal, was normal. We are the best candidates to be psychologists because we are living proof that if a person wants it they can change and psychology contributed to 99% of my recovery and why I remain this way.

      I know that Colorado will always consider you if you disclose everything that is on your background check. I suggest getting your background check if you are like me that way you do not forget anything. There is a chance so go for it I say!! GOOD LUCK!!

  5. Getting your record expunged is only a good idea if you have one or two minor offenses. If you have a long history of offenses it’ll never happen. Not to mention states like mine want you to show like 5 or more years of volunteer work, have letters of reference from people like firemen, police, priest, etc, you have to explain each and every charge, what you were thinking at the time, and every detail: they make it too difficult to do. I don’t remember why I did what I did 20+ years ago. All I can do is lie. And who with a record has the time to do 5 years of community service? We have to work harder to pay bills.

    • You are absolutely incorrect. I got my record expunged and I had 11 felony convictions. All of these were from when I was younger. But they were felonies. My employer actually had a legal plan for employees that I signed up for a small fee. All of my charges were reduced to misdemeanors and then dismissed all in one shot. Also, I had assistance from a plan that I paid for through my employer, however I was able to get a fee waiver for all of my court fees. I had help so it was a little easier, but it can be done and you can get rid of some big felonies. You gotta just be willing to go as far as you need to get the job done.

      • Keke,

        Thank you so much for posting this! You have given me so much hope! I was in pre-med and I got a felony DUI and it ruined my life! I’m super smart and I hope so much love and empathy for people. I started studying college medical books when I was 8 years old. I’m going crazy trying to figure out what kind of career I can still have. Thanks for the hope of redemption!


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