How to Become a Criminal Psychiatrist – Careers and Degrees

Criminal psychiatrist, also referred to as a forensic psychiatrist, is a medical doctor who has received specialized training in both law and mental health fields. By using the knowledge gained from the unique blend of professions, criminal psychiatrists are able to assist juries and lawyers in the evaluation of the mental health of defendants involved in court proceedings.

Among the specific topics criminal psychiatrists address includes anxiety, depression, hysteria, and psychotic conditions. Providing expert testimony can help to enlighten the legal profession about the unique psychological aspects that can influence human behavior.

What is the Work Environment for a Criminal Psychiatrist?

Criminal psychiatrists often work with lawyers and the penal system, offering professional consultation as an “expert witness” of sorts during court proceedings.

While some criminal psychiatrists do work within criminal matters, they can also provide assistance to malpractice lawsuits, child custody, and advocating for the helping of those with mental illness who are either victims of crimes or have gotten in trouble with the law.

A criminal psychiatrist’s time will most likely be spent divided between his/her office where he/she will meet with clients, review medical records, and keep up to date with the advances in both legal and mental health issues, and the remaining time spent assisting in judicial proceedings. Additionally, a criminal psychiatrist may be able to assist with clinical and forensic research topics.

What are the Requirements to Become a Criminal Psychiatrist?


To become a criminal psychiatrist, you will need to start by completing an undergraduate degree, upon which you will need to complete a Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree program.

During your medical school experience, you will have the opportunity to major in psychiatry. Additionally, you may be able to gain valuable insight into the unique blend of legal and psychological aspects that will assist you in your future career.

Through residency and fellowships, which usually takes four years to complete, you will also learn about criminal forensic psychiatry, neurological illnesses, and possibly spend some time working in a prison or jail hospital.

To specialize in criminal psychiatry, you will also need to complete a forensic psychiatry fellowship, which takes a year to complete.


As a practicing doctor, you will need to acquire and maintain state licensure. Part of the requirements in obtaining your medical license consist of passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). State licensing requirements may vary, so you should check with the appropriate licensing boards for your state.


Additionally, you can also become certified in general psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), which includes completion of medical school, residency, and the passing of an additional exam. You can also gain additional certification in forensic psychiatry through the American Board of Professional Psychology, which may open up other job avenues.

Skills and Qualities

In order to become a successful criminal psychiatrist, you will need to have a variety of skills that will be of great use when working within the specialized environment.

You should have a strong understanding about the clinical psychological needs of individuals and how certain mental conditions can influence behavior. Additionally, you should have a firm grasp of the legal knowledge, including mental health law and courtroom procedures.

Critical thinking and effective communication skills are also quite valuable, as you will need to maintain composure under stressful courtroom situations and provide supporting documentation for legal proceedings.

What is the Salary for a Criminal Psychiatrist?

The annual salary of criminal psychiatrists can vary due to many contributing factors. As of May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychiatrists on average earn an annual salary of $220,430. The state of Maine reports the highest salaries, with an average of $273,900 per year. Psychiatrists who work for the state government earn an average of $205,960. The highest salaries are usually associated with the amount of experience obtained in addition to where you are employed.

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