How to Become a Criminal Psychologist


Criminal psychologists may be the most recognized type of psychologist, because of shows such as Law and Order and other crime dramas. Each week Americans watch as a professional analyzes a criminal and testifies in court about a defendant’s state of mind, mental health or lack thereof.

Criminal psychology is an important part of the justice system. Criminal psychologists talk to potential suspects or proven criminals in order to investigate their mental state, and many testify at trials as to the health of patients. With background in criminology as well psychology, these specialized psychologists are experts in mental states and behavior of criminals.

Someone who is drawn to crime novels might be the perfect candidate for this profession.  A desire to know the criminal mind – or just a healthy love of psychology and psychopaths – will come in handy.

What is a Criminal Psychologist?

A criminal psychologist, who is sometimes referred to as a forensic psychologist, works in an area the blends psychology with the field of criminal justice. Criminal psychologists often work with members of the judicial system, law enforcement, and other agencies and provide their expert analysis in a number of areas. Much of a criminal psychologist’s job is to conduct research, evaluate behavior, and write reports.

Criminal psychologists might evaluate the thoughts and behaviors of criminal offenders, determine the ability of the accused to stand trial, or provide expert testimony during a trial regarding the defendant’s mental state during the commission of the crime. Criminal psychologists may also work with victims of crimes to help them overcome the traumas associated with their experiences. Many criminal psychologists also work with offenders after they have been convicted in order to help rehabilitate them for eventual re-entry into the general population.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Criminal Psychologist?

How should one start towards professional criminal psychology? Because a Ph.D. (or Psy.D.) is necessary, becoming a criminal psychologist will take years of challenging coursework as well as internships before a person can become the star witness for a trial.

Any career in criminal psychology begins by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology. A degree in criminal psychology is available at some universities, but any degree is acceptable as long as a student can gain entry to a graduate school psychology program with the major they have chosen.

The right grad school for an advanced degree is not a quick decision to make. Many universities and colleges offer specialized psychology programs – criminal psychology being one. You can also opt for a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in clinical or counseling psychology with focus on forensic or criminal psychology. Research is important when picking the right school to obtain a Ph.D. Some universities prepare students to work for the FBI or prison system, and students should have an idea of where they’d like to end up in their career in order to choose the right school.

Talk to professors or professionals: Talking is something psychologists excel at. Talk to professors and professionals – they will often tell you which schools they believe are doing the best work and research. Often, talking to these people will give insight on which school is the correct choice.

Search the internet: Search the net for the top programs in criminal psychology. Try to narrow down results to schools that might have the program you need for your career goals.

Talk to admissions counselors: After you identify schools that could work, talk to personnel at the school. They can offer information about the programs offered, where their top graduates are now and other news that didn’t make the website.


PhD candidates must complete an internship in order to graduate, but getting an internship can be hard. Students and internships are matched up after a series of interviews with agencies – and students must take the internship offered. There are more doctoral candidates than internships, so it is often hard to procure an internship. Acing an interview is vital in the search for internships.

Licensure Hours

Licensure requirements vary from state to state. To become a fully licensed psychologist every graduate must complete a specified number of supervised hours of practice. This should be easy for criminal psychologists working in a prison or for the court system.

Training and Self-Development

Even after years of success – not to mention the obtaining of degrees, internships, entry level jobs and promotions – criminal psychologists should continue to develop professionally.

A great way to do this is by attending professional training, symposiums and conventions. If employed by a government agency, most likely training will be offered frequently. This job can be stressful and even harmful to one’s mental health, so it is important to be open to different kinds of therapy. Not only will it help to deal with what might happen in the line of duty, it is also helpful for any psychologist to be on the opposite end every once and a while.

Where Do Recent Graduates Work?

Getting a foot in the door is important, many times fresh criminal psychologists begin careers working for the county or state.  Police departments, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and government agencies all might hire a criminal psychologist. Those who wish to work for special agencies, such as the FBI, will have to go through law enforcement and rise through the ranks.

Criminal psychologists are often paid witnesses in court – making thousands of dollars in the process.

Related: What Can You Do with a Criminal Psychology Degree

What is the Salary for a Criminal Psychologist?

As of March 2015, according to Payscale, the average criminal psychologist makes $60,158; the pay ranges from $38,900 per year to over $97,000.

The outlook for this profession is great – crime will always exist, and someone will need to be there to evaluate the criminals.

What Careers are Similar to Criminal Psychology?

There are a few different careers, which are similar to criminal psychology including those listed below.

Forensic Psychologist: Forensic psychologists apply psychology theories and techniques in the legal setting, such as a courtroom or correctional facility. For example, some forensic psychologists may work as expert witnesses during a trial or work with lawyers to assist with jury selection. Although forensic psychologists often focus their work on criminal cases, they can also be involved in civil cases, such as assessing emotional injury is a litigation case. Some forensic psychologists provide counseling, such as anger management classes, and other rehabilitation services to inmates. The minimum education required to work as a forensic psychologist is a doctorate. Most states also require licensure or certification to work in the field.

Correctional Psychologist: Correctional psychologists work in the legal system with individuals who are incarcerated. Correctional psychologists diagnose and treat inmates with mental health issues. But their responsibilities may also be varied depending on the needs of the inmate. For example, they may work with inmates to help them adjust to prison life. They may also help inmates prepare for their release and integration back into society. In order to work as a correctional psychologist, the minimum requirement is a doctorate.

Behavioral Psychologist: A behavior psychologist focuses on helping people change their negative or harmful thoughts, emotions and actions. They help identify negative patterns and thought processes that lead to poor choices and destructive behavior, such as addiction or criminal activity. Behavior psychologists work with patients to improve their emotional issues by implementing various behavior modifying techniques. Psychologists may work with various types of people including those with a criminal background. Similar to other types of psychologists, behavior psychologists must have a minimum of a doctorate to work in the field.

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