Learn About Careers in Criminal Psychology
Criminal psychology (also called forensic psychology) is the intersection of psychology and the legal system. Forensic psychologists offer expert psychological opinions in legal matters. They generally perform both forensic duties and clinical duties, helping their clients with counseling and therapy.
The job description of a forensic psychologist may include these responsibilities:
- Lead psychological evaluations to determine if a defendant is fit to stand trial
- Help determine whether an elderly or ill person is competent to make decisions
- Discern if a death was an accident or a "disguised suicide" in an insurance claim
- Develop psychological profiles of perpetrators to help police understand the nature, patterns and motives of criminals
- Study problems of crime prevention, rehabilitation programs in prisons, and help select candidates for police work
Education and Training
To work in the field of criminal psychology, you must earn a master's or doctoral degree in clinical psychology, forensic psychology or counseling, which takes about five to seven years to complete. There's currently no specific forensic psychology degree (or criminal psychology degree), but to specialize in forensic psychology, candidates do post-doctoral fellowship training in forensic psychology.
Where You'll Work
Forensic psychologists work in many different settings, including the following:
- State or local criminal justice systems
- Research centers
- Medical examiners' offices
- Police departments
- Independent consultants
What Forensic Psychologists Do
Forensic psychologists may perform any of the following functions:
- Evaluate defendants to determine if they're competent to stand trial
- Determine whether a convict is at risk for re-offending
- Offer expert testimony on criminal psychological disorders
- Research issues that have a legal impact, such as testimony from children or from eyewitnesses
- Train law enforcement and other criminal justice workers to safely handle individuals with psychological problems
Certification and Licensure
The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral training programs in clinical psychology, counseling and school psychology.
All states require licensure for practicing psychologists. Requirements vary from state to state, but psychologists generally need a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited institution, one year of field work, and they must pass a state certification exam.
After getting work experience and continuing education, some psychologists will go on to become Board Certified in the specialty of forensic psychology. The best-known certification board is the American Board of Forensic Psychology, which offers the title of Diplomate to people who meet its standards and pass its certification exam.
Forensic Psychology Salaries
Forensic Psychologists are part of the larger field of psychologists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for psychologists is $69,280. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.