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How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

In the last several years, criminal or forensic psychology has been in the spotlight on TV and in the movies. The criminal psychologists we see on TV may give us the wrong impression of what these professionals do in the real world. An actual criminal psychologist must work closely with law enforcement and other stakeholders to make a difference in the criminal justice system.

If you are interested in criminal psychology, now is a great time to get involved in the profession. Psychology jobs expected to increase by a healthy 14% by 2028, and many of them will be in the criminal psychology field. Keep reading to learn more about how to become a criminal psychologist.

What Is Criminal Psychology?

Criminal psychology is the study of behavior and intentions. Legal practitioners must have an understanding of human motivation at its most debased and basic to give fair judgment of criminals. Criminal psychologists often are needed in the legal and law enforcement fields to clinical evaluate the mental states of people who break the law. (Psychologytoday.com). They also try to determine whether or not the accused has a psychological problem, and if so, how to treat it.

Another major part of what a criminal or forensic psychologist does is studying why criminals commit crimes. They also may need to assess criminals to evaluate their chances of recidivism. Criminal psychologists may also make educated guesses about potential actions that a criminal may have taken after the crime was committed. (Verywellmind.com).

Criminal psychologists also may engage in offender or criminal profiling. The FBI and other federal crime organizations use criminal profiling to assist in catching violent criminals. The goal of offender profiling is to offer law enforcement a psychological assessment of the suspect and to give them strategies and suggestions for the suspect interview process.

Criminal psychologists do not usually accompany law enforcement with suspects that have been apprehended. Cases can take weeks, months, or even years to solve; they are not wrapped up as quickly as television would lead one to believe.

In addition to offender profiling, forensic psychologists may be asked to provide counseling to people who have engaged in criminal activity and need psychological assessment.

What Do Criminal Psychologists Do?

A typical day for a criminal psychologist depends mostly on where they work and the types of criminals they work with. Some of their duties may include:

  • Apply psychological principles to the criminal justice system
  • Assess the offender’s state of mind when the alleged offense occurred
  • Assess the chances of the offender reoffending
  • Assess whether or not a witness is credible
  • Provide expert testimony in court
  • Advise law enforcement on criminal psychology principles and mental illness
  • Talk to attorneys about mental health matters in the criminal justice system

Where Do Criminal Psychologists Work?

Criminal psychologists often work with police and federal agents to assist in solving crimes. They may develop profiles of kidnappers, murderers, rapists, and other criminals. Some psychologists will work for local, state, or federal government, and others are independent consultants.

On the local level, local law enforcement needs criminal psychologists to work on current and unsolved cases. In the case of a serial criminal, the criminal psychologist will look at the behavior and possible next steps of the perpetrator.

Many criminal psychologists are employed by the FBI and may be based in Quantico, Virginia, which is the home of the Behavioral Sciences Unit. The FBI uses criminal psychologists for criminal profiling in many unsolved crimes. Criminal psychologists also are asked to establish profiles for criminals, especially in well-publicized cases that involve more than one state.

Other criminal psychologists work for the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. This group performs research on major types of illegal activities. They do research on past crimes, look for connections to different crimes, and try to draw any connections that are there.

What Is the Job Outlook for Criminal Psychologists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports demand for all psychologists will rise by 14% by 2028, which is much faster than average. Employment of clinical and counseling psychologists will rise because of more demand in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies. Demand for criminal psychologists also should increase as there is more need for criminals to get psychological counseling so they do not commit more crimes. (BLS.gov).

The American Psychological Association reports that “demand for forensic psychologists is outstripping the supply as the legal system thinks up more and more ways to put their expertise to use.” (APA.org). Clinical psychologists also are turning to criminal psychology to diversify their practices further.

How Can You Become A Criminal Psychologist?

To become any type of psychologist, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or in a related field, for starters. Then, you must earn at least a master’s degree in criminal psychology, and a doctoral degree will give you the most career and salary options. (BLS.gov).

You can earn your Ph.D. in criminal psychology after taking four to six years of courses and completing an exam and dissertation. Most states require you to obtain licensure as a psychologist to work in practice. It also can be helpful to earn a certification in forensic psychology offered by the American Board of Professional Psychology.

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

After you complete your master’s or doctoral program in criminal psychology, you must obtain your license. Most states require you to obtain licensure as a psychologist to work in practice, which is called the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). A major benefit of this examination is that it is the same no matter where you earned your degree or where you plan to practice.

While the test is the same, note that the requirements for licensure as a criminal psychologist vary by state. Different standards have various requirements for clinical hours during your college degree program. It is vital to go over the requirements of the stand where you intend to practice as you are considering where to earn your degree. Also, some states mandate supervised clinical hours after you graduate from the program.

Do you think you want a career in criminal psychology? Feel free to ask our team any questions you have, and look at the criminal and forensic psychology programs available on our site. This is a great career path, and now is the time to begin!

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.