You can attain an undergraduate degree in criminal psychology within four years. If you graduate with an advanced degree (Master’s/Doctoral) in criminal psychology, you may be able to enter a variety of fields. Your main responsibilities will be to collect and analyze information from a crime scene (to determine what really happened) and figure out why the perpetrator committed the crime.
You may also conduct research studies, teach at the college level and/or provide counseling services to prison inmates. If you are wondering what your options are if you have a criminal psychology degree, then you have come to the right place. This article can help you shape your future career path.
Criminal Psychology Education & Training
This degree program is designed to help you earn a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in criminal psychology. In this program, you may learn how to administer and analyze personality and psychological assessments, screen for mental illnesses, profile serial killers, evaluate suspects and perpetrators and counsel prison inmates and repeat offenders.
Courses may include: abnormal psychology, human development, human motivations, forensic psychology, social intervention, criminal science and/or psychological techniques, methods and strategies. It typically takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal psychology.
This program is designed to help you earn a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in criminal psychology. In this program, you may learn how to research and provide administrative services in court proceedings. You may also learn how to analyze crime scene photos and make recommendations on who the perpetrator is and what happened during the crime.
You may also provide counseling services to prison inmates and parole violators. At this level, you will be required to complete coursework, a thesis (an extensive research study) and a supervised internship. Courses may include: advanced criminal profiling, forensic arbitration, research methodologies, victimology, dispute resolution and/or mental health law. It typically takes approximately 2.5 to three years to obtain a master’s degree in criminal psychology.
This program is designed to help you earn a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in criminal psychology. A doctoral degree program teaches you how to evaluate family dynamics, human thoughts, motivations and behaviors, assess crime scenes, counsel individuals, families, groups, prison inmates, repeat offenders and parole violators, conduct research studies, teach and participate in legal proceedings. This program may help you attain a license as a criminal or forensic psychologist.
The goal of the program is to teach you the skills needed to provide expert testimony in criminal, civil and family courts cases. While in your post-graduate program, you may complete coursework, a supervised internship and a dissertation (an extensive research paper). Coursework may include: advanced research methodologies, ethical legal standards and/or evaluation processes. It can take up to seven years to attain a doctoral degree in criminal psychology.
Functions of a Criminal Psychologist
With a criminal psychology degree, you are able to analyze various forms of data (witness testimonies, crime scene photos, etc.) to determine what happened during a crime. You are also able to complete criminal profiles for law enforcement and testify in court. Your main function during court trials is to use your psychological expertise to determine if and why a suspect committed the crime.
Other functions may include: evaluating if the witnesses are mentally competent and whether or not the defendant was mentally competent at the time of the crime and whether he/she is competent enough to stand trial. You may also provide counseling services to survivors and their families and/or provide expert testimonies in child custody cases.
Careers in Criminal Psychology
Educator & Researcher
With an advanced degree in criminal psychology you may be able to seek employment as an educator and/or researcher at colleges, universities, or research laboratories. The knowledge that you acquire from your criminal psychology degree may help you teach criminal psychology classes to undergraduate and/or graduate students.
It may also allow you to use your psychological expertise to develop more effective ways to examine and evaluate the mental health of witnesses, victims, suspects, prison inmates and repeat offenders. Moreover, you may conduct studies on how to improve the legal process, how to develop more effective crime scene protocols and investigations and how to create more reliable criminal profiles so that cases can be solved faster.
Another career path you can take if you have a doctorate in criminal psychology is forensic science. This degree, along with a license and/or certification, can allow you to practice forensic psychology. With this degree you will be able to study the thought patterns, motivations and behaviors of criminals. You will spend the majority of your time interviewing, observing and assessing suspects, victims, medical experts and witnesses.
Related Reading: How to Become a Forensic Psychologist
You will also spend time perusing police reports, providing expert testimonies during court trials and developing cases studies that can be used to arrest suspects and/or build criminal cases. In some cases, you may provide counseling services to prison inmates and/or make recommendations on whether or not the offenders need more extensive mental health services.
Criminal/Crime Scene Investigator
With a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal psychology, you may be able to assist with criminal investigations. Your main responsibilities will be to: assess the mental processes (thinking patterns) of witnesses, the victim and the perpetrator, administer and analyze psychological assessments, provide criminal profiles to law enforcement, help attorneys select jurors for trials, evaluate crime scenes, provide expert testimonies and aid in investigations (law enforcement, the court, federal bureau of investigations and so on by helping them understand why the suspect could have or would have committed the crime).
In other words, your main duties will be to provide a psychological explanation as to what motivated the crime, whether or not the suspect was insane at the time and why early warning signs were missed. Your main goal as a criminal investigator will be to provide insight into the mind and behaviors of those involved in the case. To be successful in this career field, you must have a strong background in forensic science, criminal justice, criminal science and criminology.
A trial consultant offers their expertise to prosecutors and defense attorneys to help them prepare for a trial. Trial consultants can be experts in a wide variety of fields, from psychology to sociology to communications to law enforcement. Trial consultants use this expertise to perform any number of tasks, from helping lawyers prepare their opening or closing statements to working with witnesses to prepare them for testimony in court. For example, a trial consultant that’s an expert in verbal communication might coach a prosecuting attorney in their delivery of their statements to the court with the express purpose of increasing the impact of the attorney’s words on the jury.
If you decide to earn a criminal psychology degree or you already have a degree in criminal psychology, you may become a social worker with a bachelor’s degree. A background in criminal psychology may allow you to work for a prison, government agency and/or juvenile detention center. Your main responsibilities will be to provide assistance and support to felons and those who have a criminal record.
Your duties may include: helping these individuals find employment, outpatient mental health services, housing and/or obtain resources. Much of your time will be spent helping those recently released from jail or prison successfully re-enter society. You may also provide counseling services to children and adolescents who are at-risk for future criminal acts.
- Kocsis, R. N. (2009). Applied Criminal Psychology: A Guide to Forensic Behavioral Sciences. New York, NY: Charles C. Thomas Publishers, 6-10.
- Turvey, B. E. (2002). Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis (4thed.). California: Elsevier Science.
- Trutv. (2013). Criminal Mind. Crime Library.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2013). Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.