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Criminal Psychologist: Education and Career Information

There are many programs that highlight individuals on a crime team that operate solely on the aspect of studying and observing criminals to understand what they may be or have been thinking when committing the crime. This is a fascinating career field that can be very rewarding and exciting for someone who wants to work in law enforcement, but in a different capacity than being an officer. These individuals are called criminal psychologists, or forensic psychologists.

What does a criminal psychologist do?

A criminal psychologist uses their research and data collection to study and address the mental state of a criminal. They specialize in understanding the mind for thoughts, intentions and criminal behavior. This is a very popular career field. A criminal psychologist not only studies crimes, but helps in determining whether or not a criminal is at risk of re-offending in the future. They work to guess what actions a criminal may take next. They are often called to testify in court, and are best known for criminal profiling. This means they work with law enforcement to create a psychological assessment and provide strategies and suggestions to use. There is never a dull moment with this job, and this role works in a number of positions, including counseling, computer-related crimes, and research. You will find these people in the office and in the courtroom. They work for local, state and governmental agencies, and some of them work as consultants in private practice. Criminal psychologists are also found in universities, teaching courses to law enforcement officers and other professionals.

How much does a criminal psychologist earn?

According to Payscale, a criminal psychologist earns around $62,000 per year on average. This salary may change with experience, location and the role they play on the team. This position can make over $100,000 a year as the level of education gets higher and the responsibilities increase.

What types of skills are needed to become a criminal psychologist?

There are a number of skills required for a person to become successful as a criminal psychologist:

Reading and writing: Strong reading skills are needed to comprehend any research and data gathered. A criminal psychologist must be able to write clearly for a number of audiences.

Critical Thinking: A criminal psychologist must use logic and reasoning to come to sound conclusions after identifying underlying situations and crime scenes. They must be able to decipher what a criminal is thinking, putting themselves into the mind of the perpetrator in order to figure out their next move.

Communication: It is very important to communicate when you are involved in the study of human behavior. This is the only way criminal psychologists will be able to describe their observations and discuss their findings.

Research skills: A criminal psychologist must have strong research skills in order to gather and understand data gathered. Research is a large component of being successful in this position.

Ethics: Criminal psychologists have a responsibility to do the right thing. This means they must have a strong sense of ethics to make sure everyone involved is well-protected. They must make sure the data and assumptions they make are based on concrete facts.

Patience: Understanding how criminals think can often take time, so it’s important to learn how to be patience. It is important to have enough patience to research, gather data and get to the bottom of things without becoming too frustrated. This could cloud judgment and create inconsistencies in the case.

Problem-Solving: Having problem-solving skills is a must. A criminal psychologist must be able to assess and decipher problems, thinking quickly. Criminals can shift their targets or pattern within seconds. A criminal psychologist must be able to assess what has taken place and make adjustments to assist law enforcement in their cases.

Internship Requirements

Criminal psychologists must have a year of experience in the field to obtain a license, or 1,000 hours of postdoctoral experience or training, in addition to 100 hours of specialized forensic psychology training. They also gain clinical practicums and residencies occurring throughout their educational programs. Additional experience is gained through government agencies, private consulting firms, hospitals, prisons, courts or police departments. They are conducted under the supervision of a licensed criminal psychologist.

Education Requirements

The first step in becoming a criminal psychologist is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Studies in psychology or criminal behavior is highly recommended, in addition to courses in human behavior, psychoanalysis, crime detection, forensic science and criminology. During this four-year program, students should take the initiative to volunteer in a forensic setting beyond the standard internship to gain experience.

The next step after obtaining the bachelor’s degree is to obtain a master’s degree, Ph.D., or a Psy.D. These programs take an additional two years of study. The master’s takes two years after the bachelor’s, and the doctoral degree an additional two years. With a doctoral degree, a year of postdoctoral clinical training is required in criminal or forensic psychology to obtain the license. The Ph.D. program also requires a dissertation from research conducted throughout their studies.

It is wise to become board certified. While certification is not really required, a certification can assist in becoming recognized for your work in the field, and will open the doors of opportunity. This also demonstrates proficiency in the field. A set of written and oral exams are needed to become board-certified.

A criminal psychologist will always have continuing education requirements to stay on top of industry trends and changes in any laws. Their expertise is valued in and out of the legal system. Throughout their career, criminal psychologists will have to stay educated to renew their license and certifications. For an individual who wants to assist in bringing criminals to justice and helping law enforcement understand how to better understand perpetrators, this is a great field to work in. This will not only be lucrative, but enlightening as the world of the criminal mind is evaluated and understood.

Psychology Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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