What Do Criminal Psychologists Do? [2024 Guide]

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The field of criminal psychology is sometimes portrayed in TV shows and movies, so you may be wondering, “What do criminal psychologists do?”

What Do Criminal Psychologists Do

Criminal psychology may prove to be a rewarding career path if you find the mindset and motivation of criminal offenders fascinating.

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Pursuing a career in criminal psychology may allow you to benefit from higher than average annual salaries and positive career growth.

What Do Criminal Psychologists Do?

This question is similar to what does a forensic psychologist do. The work of criminal psychologists focuses on criminal behavior and the relationship between criminality and the justice system. Criminal psychologists can work closely with law enforcement professionals, attorneys, legal teams, and offenders of crime.

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Careers related to the field of criminal psychology include:

  • Criminal profiler
  • Crime analyst
  • Research psychologist
  • Educator or professor
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Correctional counselor
  • Jury consultant
  • Expert witness
  • Law enforcement professional
  • Police consultant

Some responsibilities that criminal psychologists can have include the following:

  • Interview suspects. Criminal psychologists can interview suspects of criminal acts to understand their mindset and evaluate their fitness to stand trial.
  • Consult with law enforcement. They may consult with law enforcement professionals and provide insight into criminal behavior.
  • Develop criminal profiles. Some criminal psychologists develop criminal profiles based on behavioral and personality traits linked to criminality.
  • Give expert witness testimony. A criminal psychologist can act as an expert witness in criminal and civil trial settings.
  • Conduct assessments. They can conduct assessments to determine an individual’s risk of re-offending.

A criminal psychologist can also choose to pursue a career in research or teaching. An education role would include additional responsibilities, such as developing course curriculum and instructing students on topics related to criminology, forensic psychology, or criminal profiling.

5 Things You Can Do with a Criminal Psychology Degree

Criminal Psychology Degree

There are a number of positions that may be available to you with a criminal psychology degree. Common careers in this field include criminal profiler, research psychologist, professor, top-level executive, or expert witness. A doctorate is required in order to become a licensed psychologist.

1. Criminal Profiler

Criminal profilers develop psychological profiles based on personality and behavioral traits. They can use their skills to support law enforcement officials in the apprehension of criminal offenders.

They may draw on their expertise in psychology and their understanding of criminal behavior to analyze crime scenes and bolster their criminal profile.

2. Research Psychologist

Research Psychologist

A research psychologist whose focus is on criminology and criminal behavior may conduct research to explore various theories and hypotheses related to the field.

This can include interviewing suspects, inmates, or reformed offenders of crime.

3. Postsecondary Teacher

A doctorate in criminal psychology can help qualify you for teaching roles at community colleges and universities.

This type of work may allow you to participate in research for the academic institution. Additional tasks may include developing course curriculum, instructing students, acting as an academic advisor, or creating assessments to test student knowledge.

4. Top-Level Executive

Top-Level Executive

With an advanced degree in criminal psychology, you may be well qualified for a position in management or leadership. Senior positions can include chief psychology officer, clinical manager, or clinical director.

Psychology professionals in leadership positions are often responsible for overseeing various social and human service professionals, including other psychologists, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and clinical staff.

5. Expert Witness

After pursuing a criminal psychology major in your graduate studies, you may be ready to take on the role of an expert witness.

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Expert witnesses often need to understand the facts and evidence of a case. They can be responsible for evaluating the individual accused of a crime as well as the individual’s fitness to stand trial. Expert witnesses also use their expertise to provide informed opinions on the case.

Criminal Psychology Careers & Salaries

Criminal Psychology Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a variety of criminal psychology careers that you may be qualified to pursue with a masters in criminal psychology or PhD in Criminal Psychology.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Top Executives, Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services $208,000
Top Executives, Healthcare and Social Assistance $160,950
Psychologists, All Other $105,780
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $96,270
Sociologists $86,110
Social Scientists and Related Workers $82,280
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists $79,820
Postsecondary Psychology Teachers $78,180
Postsecondary Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers $63,560
Survey Researchers $59,870

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that positions in the field of criminal psychology are expected to grow over the next ten years, including psychologists (3% job growth), social scientists (4%), top-level executives (4%), sociologists (4%), and postsecondary teachers (9%).

How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

Students often wonder how to become a criminal psychologist. There are a number of steps involved in becoming a licensed criminal psychologist, including the following:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree program. The first step to becoming a criminal psychologist is to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. It can be strategic to major in psychology or a related discipline to support future academic requirements.
  • Earn a PhD or PsyD in Criminal Psychology. In some cases, depending on the school and program, you may be able to enroll in a PhD or PsyD program with only a bachelors degree. In other cases, you may choose to pursue a masters degree first and later enroll in a PhD or PsyD program.
  • Gain work experience. To become licensed, you’re typically required to complete a certain number of work hours in the field. This can be completed through a residency or internship program.
  • Pass a professional exam. Before being eligible for licensure as a criminal psychologist, your state board will likely require you to complete and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Notably, a criminal psychology education isn’t always offered as a stand-alone academic program. It’s often blended into forensic psychology, criminology, or other larger psychology programs.

What Is Criminal Psychology?

Criminal psychology field

Criminal psychology is a field of study that focuses on criminal behavior. This can include the study of ideas, thoughts, views, and related actions of individuals who engage in criminal acts.

Criminal psychology is highly centered around criminals themselves. Due to this fact, psychologists in the field commonly contribute insight and expertise to the development of criminal profiles for law enforcement officials to use in the apprehension of suspects.

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Criminal psychologists can also work closely with offenders to gain a better understanding of their motivation for committing crimes and to evaluate their overall risk of re-offending.

How Much Does a Criminal Psychologist Make?

Criminal Psychologist careers

The earnings of a criminal psychologist can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including years of experience, the industry in which they work, and the employer they work for.

On average, psychologists earn $82,180 per year, with those working in government and hospital settings earning more than those in ambulatory healthcare and education (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Other careers that may be available to criminal psychologists can include top executive roles in professional, scientific, and technical services ($208,000), sociologist ($86,110), or psychology teacher at a postsecondary institution ($78,180).

Where Do Criminal Psychologists Work?

Criminal Psychologist profession

Criminal psychologists can work in a variety of settings, depending on the type of work they are engaged in. They may be involved with clinical counseling or professional consultation. They can also act as an expert witness in the courtroom.

It is common for criminal psychologists to work in the legal and criminal justice system, federal and state government institutions, hospitals and healthcare centers, academia, or prisons and correctional centers. This can include performing responsibilities in a criminal court, clinical office, or school.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Criminal Psychologist?

licensed criminal psychologist

The specific length of time required to become a licensed criminal psychologist can vary from one state to the next, but there are a number of steps involved in the process that can help you understand the general timeline of the process.

To become a criminal psychologist, you’re typically required to earn a 4 year bachelors degree as well as a PhD or PsyD. A doctorate can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years if you’re able to study full-time.

Your academic timeline can be influenced by whether you complete a masters degree as part of your doctoral program or separately. In order to be eligible for licensure, state boards often require a certain number of supervised work hours as well as the completion of the EPPP exam.

What’s the Difference Between Criminal Psychology vs. Forensic Psychology?

Criminal Psychology vs. Forensic Psychology

While there are a number of similarities and areas of overlap between criminal psychology and forensic psychology, there are also a number of differences.

  • Criminal psychology: Criminal psychology is highly concentrated on understanding criminal behavior, including the ideas, views, and mindset that leads to criminal actions.
  • Forensic psychology: While it includes criminal psychology, forensic psychology is less focused on criminal behavior and instead extends into the impact of crime on victims, witnesses, and law enforcement officials.

Criminal psychology is often taught within broader forensic psychology or criminology programs.

Getting Your Forensic Psychology Degree Online

Forensic Psychology Degree Online

If you’re interested in diving into what makes individuals commit criminal activity, then earning a degree in criminal psychology may be right for you. A growing number of universities even offer an online criminal psychology degree that may allow you to also work while in the program.

This area of study endeavors to understand the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of those who commit crimes.

In the field of criminal psychology, you can deeply explore the concepts of psychological profiling and criminal justice. You may even support law enforcement in understanding criminals and developing criminal profiles.

If you’re intrigued by this lucrative and rewarding field, you may want to explore accredited criminal psychology degree online programs to find the one that best fits your interests and goals.

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Brenda has a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda focuses on employment, business, and training and development.