Criminal psychology refers to the study of the criminal mind making use of psychological principles in the criminal justice system. It falls under forensic psychology, but is very different from forensic science. Forensic scientists take up forensic courses. They mostly look at crime scenes and put together evidence and circumstances that have led to a series of events, while a criminal psychologist is someone who tries to understand why something occurred. Our legal system allows a criminal psychologist to study "the why" of happenings in many ways.
To pursue a career in criminal psychology, the basic requirement is a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology. A master's degree program is required if you want to do more extensive investigative research, take on clinical roles, and get better pay. For a career in clinical work, a Ph.D. in Psychology is required to have the skills in counseling and to earn the needed clinical hours.
The educational requirements for criminal psychology are quite different from forensic psychology and the forensic course requirements for a forensic psychologist. Careers in criminology and other criminal careers may have different course requirements as well.
To have a better understanding of the specific careers you can pursue in criminal psychology, here is a list of careers and the work involved.
- Clinical work as a criminal psychologist involves using developmental psychology and social psychology skills to understand the criminal mind and what the person has done. The psychologist determines if the person involved is competent to stand trial, and has the ability to defend himself. It sometimes involves counseling persons declared incompetent, or prisoners sentenced to be confined in psych hospitals instead of a prison.
- Criminal psychologists can be involved in legal work assisting lawyers in trial work. The psychologist helps profile the types of jurors an attorney needs in order to guarantee the best outcome for his client's case. He is tasked to prepare the questions to ask the prospective jurors, attends jury selection, looks for clues in the juror's body language to help in the selection, and recommends the jurors to select.
- In some cases a criminal psychologist is asked to provide expert testimony on facts or issues that are related to a committed crime. The psychologist uses his expertise to explain the symptoms of mental illnesses that could have contributed to a person having committing a crime.
- If you prefer pursuing investigative work, you can be a forensic psychologist responsible for creating the profile of the person who may have committed a crime. As the forensic expert, you are tasked to study crime scenes to look for clues and do the extensive research to find the criminal. As the psychologist, you place yourself inside the person's mind to determine why the person committed the act. You should have completed the requirements of forensic psychology and other forensics courses for a career in criminology.
Criminal psychology is considered social work and is a career of service and dedication. Oftentimes the pay is not commensurate to the time and effort given for the service rendered. The intensity of commitment and dedication to provide the service can lead to a person's burnout. But like any career choice, for as long as you love your job and can manage your time wisely, criminal psychology can be a lifetime commitment to service.