What Qualifications Do You Need to be a Criminal Psychologist?

What Qualifications Do You Need to be a Criminal Psychologist?


Criminal psychology is the study of the mind, emotions, behavior and intentions of criminals. It can be considered a sub-specialty of forensic psychology, and sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably.

From mid-2009 to mid-2013, there was an average of more than one mass shooting per month in the United States. This recent rash of shooting has been unprecedented, and many of them have involved innocent children. The public is demanding an answer to this growing crisis—an answer that might be found in criminal psychology.

Important Skills and Qualities

Criminal psychologists are often called to view pictures of horrendous crimes, and they sometimes must interview and assess the perpetrators of these crimes. They must be able to remain dispassionate and objective in these situations in order to render a rational assessment of the perpetrator. They must also be able to shake off the stains that these emotionally disturbing incidents can leave.

Related Reading: What Can You Do with a Criminal Psychology Degree?

They must also be good listeners and communicators, and must be able to work with people from all walks of life on a daily basis. They must also have good analytical skills and exhibit great attention to details.

Bachelor’s Degrees

Hardly any schools offer a bachelor’s degree in criminal psychology, though a few offer bachelor’s degrees in forensic psychology, which is nearly the equivalent. Another option is to major in general psychology with a concentration in criminal or forensic psychology.

In any case, your primary coursework should consist of psychology and criminal justice. Courses in anthropology, sociology, statistics, computer usage, communication and ethics can also prove helpful.

It’s highly advisable to gain volunteer experience in criminal justice and/or psychological work while doing undergraduate studies. Volunteer work can get your feet wet in the field, allowing yourself the chance to make certain you like the field before committing to it. Volunteer work can also increase your chances of gaining admission to a graduate school.

It’s also important to get good grades, because psychology is a highly competitive field for gaining admission to a graduate school. Most graduate schools require a grade point average of at least 3.0, and many require a high score on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Doctorate Degrees

Most jobs in this field require a doctorate—either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). A PsyD in criminal psychology is primarily intended for those who plan to help catch criminals, as opposed to those who primarily want to work in a laboratory as a researcher. A PhD degree is suited for either type of work.

There are a few lesser jobs available to people with a master’s degree in the field, but almost no jobs available for those with only a bachelor’s degree. Many schools don’t even offer a master’s program in the field, opting instead to combine the master’s and doctoral programs into one program, which saves students time and money. But even these combined programs normally require at least five years to complete, including hands-on training. So, including the four years it normally takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, earning a doctorate in the field can take nine or more years. Candidates must also serve a one-year internship or residency on top of that.

Some candidates hold dual degrees in law and psychology; this is a longer and more difficult path to take, but it usually affords more job opportunities and better pay.

Job Description

Contrary to what people might think from watching TV shows, criminal psychologists rarely accompany cops when they arrest the bad guys. Jobs in criminal psychology might not be as exciting or glamorous as depicted on TV, but the field is challenging, interesting and important. By helping law enforcement agencies understand the criminal mind, criminal psychologists can not only help catch criminals, but can also prevent future crimes from happening.

Hollywood is correct in suggesting that most criminal psychologists work closely with law enforcement agents by developing profiles of criminals. Criminal psychologists analyze crime scenes and, drawing upon their knowledge of human behavior and crime statistics, draw probable conclusions about the perpetrator’s age, gender, behavior and occupation.

But they also perform many other tasks. Some of them spend quite a bit of time appearing in court as expert witnesses, testifying as to whether a defendant was insane at the time of the crime or is currently fit to stand trial. Some of them analyze polygraph material, assess the psychological fitness of parents in child custody hearing or determine the risk factor of prisoners facing parole.

Other tasks might include studying internet predators, investigating online fraud or interviewing people. Some go into business for themselves as private consultants, while others teach in universities or law enforcement training facilities. Still others work in research laboratories developing new theories in criminal psychology.


The primary employers of criminal psychologists are mental health centers, forensic hospitals, academic institutions, correctional facilities and probation offices. Many psychologists set up their own private practices.

Related Reading

Further Reading

Campus Type:
Matching School Ads
Copyright © 2018 PsychologySchoolGuide.net. All Rights Reserved. Program outcomes can vary according to each institution's curriculum and job opportunities are not guaranteed. This site is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional help.