What is the Difference Between Forensic Psychology and Criminology?


The global criminal justice industry is quite vast with a number of options for interested parties to explore further. Two such fields are forensic psychology and criminology which are directly related to criminal justice. Though stemming from the same broad industry, the two disciplines are actually quite dis-similar.

For starters, forensic psychology is a union between the justice system and the field of psychology. Here, the teachings and principles of psychology are applied to the justice system with the intent of creating a more robust and fool proof justice delivery system. More specifically, forensic psychologists use their expert judgment and analysis to determine if a defendant is competent or mentally fit to stand trial or not. Forensic psychologists also try to determine whether the defendant was mentally stable or insane at the time the crime was committed by them or not.

Criminology, on the other hand is the study of criminal behavior at the micro and macro levels, i.e. individual and social levels. Using scientific methods and tools, criminologists study the crime, the behavior of the criminal as well as the victims of the crime. The purpose of criminologists is to understand why crimes take place, the impact they have and leave behind and how to prevent those crimes from happening again in the future. At their disposal, criminologists use statistics, empirical evidence, past research and quantitative methods to study crime.

Work Environment

Forensic psychologists may find themselves working with law enforcement agencies, detectives, lawyers and other psychologists. One of the core areas of work for forensic psychologists is to give expert level testimonies in courts regarding the nature of the crime as well as the state of mind of the criminal. It is quite possible that forensic psychologists will cross paths with criminals where they may have to examine their state of mind. For some, this is quite an exciting first-hand experience

Related Reading: What Do You Need to Start Forensic Psychology Career

Criminologists usually spend a large portion of their work hours studying criminal profiles, past case records and may interview criminals and law enforcement agents with the intent of creating trends. Some criminologists can also spent time in correctional facilities and clinics to help treat criminals. At times, criminologists may have to consult with psychiatrists, psychologists and even sociologists to get another opinion – so there may be a degree of collaboration in this field.

The Road to Get There

To actually begin practicing in the field and adding value to the legal system, a forensic psychology must have the right credentials. To list a couple, one must possess a doctorates degree and the right license to formally enter the industry. Once the academic and certification requirements are out of the way, one must choose the right area of practice since forensic psychology has a number of niches as you will read below. Most positions may start off as entry level or research level, which is fine since one has to start somewhere.

As a criminologist, your journey to get there will involve being exposed to a number of different yet relevant disciplines – so you can think of criminology as a multidisciplinary area where you will expose yourself to a number of areas to gain a well-rounded foundation. There is not much exposure to advanced psychology as such – there is more focus on existing research on criminal profiles, crime statistics and other academic areas that are linked to criminal psychology.

Which One Should You Select?

It can be safely assumed that to become a criminologist, you must have some deep desire to make a positive impact on a nation’s crime rate by significantly reducing it. Furthermore, if you are a staunch believer of the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’, then as a criminologist you may be able to predict and prevent crimes from taking place.

Whether it is a sense of justice, past experience, a sense of nationalism, or natural detective skills, the motivation to add value to the criminal justice system comes from within. If you have one or all of the above internal motivations to make a positive impact, then perhaps the best thing you can do for the nation is become a criminologist.

A forensic psychologist is often the line of work taken by someone who is interested in the law, the justice system and its delivery. Much of what is done by a forensic psychologist is in the form of consultation, expert witness, evaluation, and so on. In each case, it is your knowledge and experience in psychology that comes into place to decide the course of action.

If you feel that you have the necessary wisdom and acute senses to add value to this field, then you should work towards becoming a forensic psychologist to make a name for yourself in the industry.

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