How to Become A Criminal Psychologist

Psychology is a broad field that explores the cognitive, emotional, and social processes and human behavior by observation, interpretation and other techniques. Students of psychology learn how to conduct scientific studies on human behavior and brain function and further understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. Besides, they also find out how to assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

Types of Psychologists

Psychologists can be divided into a number of categories such as:

  • Clinical Psychologists – Those who assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
  • Forensic Psychologists – They are responsible for using psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case.
  • Counseling Psychologists – They advise people on how to deal with psychological problems.
  • Developmental Psychologists – Those who study the psychological progress and development that takes place throughout life.
  • School Psychologists – These professionals apply psychological principles and techniques to education-related and developmental issues.

What Is A Criminal Psychologist?

Criminal psychologists are a type of psychologists who work within the criminal justice system, and evaluate criminals exclusively. They help law enforcement personnel better understand the motives and mind of a criminal. Besides, these professionals also diagnose offenders who might be criminally insane, oversee jury selections and testify in court. Furthermore, criminal psychologists provide guidance and counseling during or after a crisis.

How To Become A Criminal Psychologist?

To become a criminal psychologist, students must earn a master’s or a doctoral degree in psychology. Besides, they also need to hold a license or certification to practice. The master’s degree generally requires 2-3 years of full-time study while the doctoral program may take 5-6 years depending on the enrollment status of the students.

Students may pursue the master’s degree or enroll in a PhD in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program. A PhD in psychology is a research based degree that includes a comprehensive  examination and dissertation based on original research, while the Psy.D. is a clinical degree and therefore based on practical work.

To enroll in the master’s program, applicants would need an undergraduate degree in psychology; some programs may grant admission without this major. However, it is essential for applicants to complete undergraduate courses in statistics, introductory psychology and experimental psychology, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some doctoral programs in psychology require students to hold a master’s degree in psychology while others accept students with a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology.

What Courses Will You Study?

Students in the psychology programs explore a range of subjects that enable them to develop an understanding of the working of human mind and behavior. Coursework may include instruction in courses such as:

  • Processes of emotional development
  • Principles of neuropsychology
  • Linear and regression statistics
  • Case management and clinical practice
  • Processes of social development
  • Probability and inferential statistics
  • Adult psychotherapy


All types of psychologists need to hold a license in order to practice. The requirements for license vary by state but generally candidates need to complete a doctorate in psychology and an internship in addition to having one to two years of professional experience to take the licensure examination.  They are also required to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Additionally, psychologists must take part in continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.

Skills For Criminal Psychologists

Psychologists who observe criminals must have analytical skills so that they may properly interpret and analyze the information they collect and draw logical conclusions from it. Absolutely essential to this profession are observational skills. These psychologists need to observe offenders and understand and interpret the possible meanings of their expressions, and actions. Besides, criminal psychologists should have strong communication and interpersonal skills to deal with criminals in an effective manner. Patience is another key quality for criminal psychologists.

Where Do Criminal Psychologists Work?

Criminal psychologists typically work for local, state or federal government, while others are self-employed as independent consultants. Some are also employed as private consultants. Some criminal psychologists are in the field of academia, while others work at specialized criminology training facilities.

Most criminal psychologists spend their time in office and courts where they interview people, research offenders’ life history, or testify in the courtroom. Some of these professionals may also work closely with police and federal agents in order to help solve crimes.

Career Outlook for Criminal Psychologists

The BLS does not have data on criminal psychologists in particular but it does cite information for other psychologists. Employment for psychologists, in general, is likely to increase at the rate of 12%, which is about as fast as the average for all other occupations between 2012 and 2022.

How Much Do Criminal Psychologists Earn?

According to the BLS, the median annual pay of psychologists in 2012 was $69,280 but they may even earn over $110,880 a year, depending on their expertise and experience in addition to other factors such as job location.

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