Criminal psychologists apply their knowledge of the mind to legal investigations.
They may lend their scientific expertise to legal proceedings in order to determine a just sentence in criminal or civil court. While other criminal investigators are primarily concerned with how, when, and where a crime occurred, criminal psychologists are often tasked with working out why.
Criminal psychology work may include...
- Determining a suspect's motive or state of mind at the time of a criminal act
- Research into comparable cases
- Interviews or conversations with criminals, witnesses, victims, or others involved with a case
- Testifying as an expert witness
- Helping to rehabilitate past offenders
Depending on where a forensic psychologist ends up, their day to day may involve the composition of threat assessments, plea bargains, custody evaluations, or sentencing recommendations. Since forensic psychology encompasses any instance where psychology interacts with the law, there's no shortage of contexts their skills may be applied to. As such, criminal psychologists can be found in most corners of the field. They may be employed by an institution such as a juvenile hall, prison, or courthouse. Law firms and police stations will occasionally staff a psychologist or bring one on as a consultant for certain cases. The primary difference between criminal and clinical psychologists is that often those a criminal psychologist sees will not be there of their own accord. This calls for increased resilience and sensitivity from those who find themselves in these situations, which can be a difficult balance to find.
Like many scientific specialty fields, anyone hoping to practice forensic psychology will need a PhD. It's never a bad idea for anyone interested in criminal investigations to have an undergraduate background in forensics or criminal justice, but a psych major works just as well in this case. At the graduate level, there are Master's degree programs in forensic psychology, which is more research based and which some will elect to take as an alternative to clinical PhD training. Some criminal psychologists have a legal background or even a JD, but the most essential thing to attain is a license to practice psychology at the professional level. Once that's achieved, there are field-specific fellowships, boards, and memberships that can help make the most of one's knowledge.
Every crime has something behind it, be it a thought-out motive or a history of instability. Whatever that thing may be, forensic psychologists are charged with finding it and helping to connect the dots in order to understand criminal activity. If you're psychologically inclined and itching to make sense of senseless acts, this could be the right way to do it.
For more information, please follow the links below:
- The American Society of Criminology: ASC
- American Psychology-Law Society - Division 41
- American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law: AAPL
- American Board of Professional Psychology
- American Psychological Association