What are the Differences Between Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology?

When we watch crime shows on TV, we often see experts diving into the minds of criminals or helping solve cases using psychology. But did you know there are two main areas in this field? One is criminal psychology, which tries to figure out why criminals do what they do. The other is forensic psychology, which uses psychology to help in actual crime investigations and court cases.

It might sound like they are the same, but they have different roles and focuses. In this article, we will break down the differences between criminal psychology and forensic psychology, so you can understand how each one helps in the world of crime-solving.

Criminal Psychology Vs Forensic Psychology

Criminal Psychology Vs. Forensic Psychology

Criminal psychology studies the behaviors, motives, and thought processes of criminals, while forensic psychology applies psychological knowledge to legal matters, including criminal investigations, courtroom procedures, and offender rehabilitation. Both fields intersect with law and psychology, but forensic psychology has a broader scope within the legal system.

Differences in Scope of Practice

Criminal psychology primarily focuses on understanding the psychological aspects of criminals and criminal behavior. This studies  the motivations, thought processes, and emotional factors that drive individuals to engage in unlawful activities. For example, criminal psychologists may study serial killers to uncover patterns in their behavior and identify potential triggers, thereby aiding in the development of profiles that can assist law enforcement in apprehending them.

If a person has committed a series of burglaries, a criminal psychologist might look into factors like childhood experiences, socioeconomic conditions, or past traumas to understand what drives them to this particular crime. Criminal psychologists try to understand and examine why certain people commit crimes. Their findings and analyses are quite useful and often assist in cases and legal trials

Another area of study in criminal psychology is the mindset of mass murderers or terrorists. What drives someone to commit acts on such a large scale? A criminal psychologist might explore factors like ideological brainwashing, personal vendettas, or even particular psychological disorders.

Forensic psychology applies psychological principles and methodologies to the legal system. It serves as a bridge between psychology and the law, offering valuable insights and expert testimony in various legal proceedings. For instance, forensic psychologists may evaluate the mental competency of individuals on trial to determine whether they are fit to stand trial, helping ensure a fair legal process.

Let’s consider a high-profile court case where the defendant’s sanity is in question. A forensic psychologist might be called to assess whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial. Their assessments can greatly influence a court’s decision on matters like sentencing or probation. Additionally, in cases of personal injury lawsuits, a forensic psychologist might evaluate the psychological harm suffered by the victim and testify about the potential long-term effects.

Forensic psychologists are also often involved in areas such as child custody disputes, providing insights based on the child’s psychological well-being.

Furthermore, forensic psychologists play a crucial role in the rehabilitation of offenders. For instance, in correctional facilities, they might design and implement therapeutic interventions, ensuring that inmates receive the appropriate care and preparation for eventual reintegration into society.

Forensic psychologists also use their findings to improve the delivery of the legal system to ensure that the results of the case or proceedings are undeniable.

Differences in Work Environment

As a criminal psychologist, you may find yourself spending time with case files and trial proceedings. You may find yourself involved with a lot of past case files and criminal profile analyses. This is actually an integral part to the first few years of any criminal psychologist. This may sound boring but you may find yourself sitting in a library or a record room full of past cases and criminal profiles in order to draw links between variables.

At times you may have to meet with and consult for law enforcement personnel to give your insights to a criminal’s next move. Law enforcement agencies commonly rely on the insights of a criminal psychologist in order to help them predict the movements and actions of a suspect.

Visiting crime scenes, accompanying law enforcement agents, appearing in courts, providing expert testimonies and determining whether a criminal can stand for trial or not are some of the different areas forensic psychologists may find themselves in. As a forensic psychologist, you may spend time interviewing a suspect and determining whether they are fit to stand trial or not.

One of the most important aspects of a forensic psychologist is the ability to stand in a court room to deliver an expert level testimony in an easily understandable legal method.

Perhaps the paths of a criminal psychologist and forensic psychologist may intersect at some point while working on an exciting and complicated case file!

Differences in Education

Since this is a field of science, the basic and initial academic requirements are quite similar. However since each is a specialization in the field of psychology, there are minor differences in qualifications required to begin practicing.

To become a criminal psychologist, one typically starts with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. After completing undergraduate studies, the path usually involves pursuing a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in psychology or a specialized area such as criminology, forensic psychology, or clinical psychology with a focus on criminal behavior.

Forensic psychologists, on the other hand, follow a similar initial academic trajectory, often obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology. However, their advanced education and training are usually more focused on forensic psychology, which includes specialized coursework in areas like forensic assessment, criminal law, and ethics. A forensic psychologist requires a master’s degree or doctorate to get licensed.

It may be noted that criminal psychologists may possess a background in law enforcement and criminal profiling. This background in law enforcement and criminal profiling is what often gives motivation for individuals to pursue higher education in criminal psychology. Whereas most forensic psychologists usually have a background interest in sciences, anthropology or even some of the social sciences.

Differences in Salaries

As of October 2023, according to ZipRecruiter the average annual salary for a criminal psychologist is $93,038. However, the pay band extends from a low of $40,000 per year to well above $190,000 annually.

The median annual wage for a forensic psychologist is $78,139, as of October 2023. The single largest factor that determines salary is one’s level of experience. More experienced forensic psychologists can earn over $150,000 per year.

Which One Should You Select?

On the surface they may seem like largely favorable choices and that the career choices eventually intersect. One way to look at this is from a research perspective.

Criminal psychologists can end up spending a lot of time with research and data mining. It involves quite a bit of analysis of cases, past events, study of trends and identification of patterns. This has an academic feel to it. You may also get to compile first-hand research which may help out with future criminal psychology studies. So if you enjoy writing research papers and studying facts, then you could look at a career in criminal psychology.

One could say that a forensic psychologist works close to where the action is. Here, action could entail coming in proximity to the criminal, visiting the crime scene to collect evidence, and taking part in critical court trials and proceedings to witness and even help determine the outcome of the case.

Your findings and discoveries as a forensic psychologist could be critical in shaping the outcome of the case. Therefore, if you think you would enjoy the excitement and thrill present in a forensic psychologist setting, then this is the right line of work for you.

What is the Difference Between a Forensic Psychologist and a Criminal Profiler?

As mentioned above, a forensic psychologist applies psychological principles to legal issues, often evaluating defendants’ mental competence or providing therapy within correctional settings. A criminal profiler, on the other hand, uses behavioral evidence from crime scenes to predict and describe the attributes of unknown criminal suspects.

While both work within the realm of crime and justice, forensic psychologists focus on the intersection of psychology and law, whereas criminal profilers emphasize behavior-based investigative techniques to aid in capturing offenders.

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