Criminal Psychologists


A criminal psychologist studies the behaviors and thoughts of criminals. Interest in this career field has grown dramatically in recent years, thanks to popular television programs that depict fictionalized criminal psychologists, such as Criminal Minds and CSI. The field is highly related to forensic psychology and, in some cases, the two terms are used interchangeably.

Criminal psychologists seek to understand the motivations of criminals and develop a psychological profile to understand or apprehend them. They examine individual criminal behaviors and diagnose any mental health conditions. They frequently step into the courtroom to provide expert testimony. Other duties include counseling individuals who have committed crimes or evaluating their risk of recidivism.

Becoming a criminal psychologist requires a doctorate in psychology and a license to practice. These professionals have usually completed postdoctoral studies or research in criminal behavior or profiling. Criminal psychologists often come from a law enforcement background, bringing skills learned in the field to graduate programs, where they refine their psychological profiling abilities.

There are many other positions in this field, however, and many who study criminal psychology go on to work in social service or in a field related to law enforcement, often as corrections and probation officers, or as police, fire, emergency, and ambulance dispatchers.

Criminal Psychologist Job Description.

A large part of what a criminal psychologist does is studying why people commit crimes. They may also assess criminals in order to evaluate the risk of recidivism (how likely the person is to re-offend in the future) or make educated guesses about the actions that a criminal may have taken after committing a crime.

Perhaps one of the best-known duties of a criminal psychologist is known as offender profiling, also known as criminal profiling. Although the practice had been used informally for many decades, criminal profiling made its professional debut in the 1940s, when the U.S. Office of Strategic Services asked a psychiatrist to create a profile for Adolf Hitler.

Today, organizations such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) use offender profiling to help apprehend violent criminals. The goal of criminal profiling is to provide law enforcement with a psychological assessment of the suspect and to provide strategies and suggestions that can be used in the interviewing process.

Psychologists don’t typically accompany officers to interrogate apprehended suspects. Moreover, many cases take weeks, months, or even years to solve, and are rarely pieced together as quickly and irrefutably as they are on TV shows.

While the job may not be exactly like you see it portrayed on TV, the realities of the job are far from boring. In addition to profiling, criminal psychologists may counsel people who have committed crimes and need psychological assessment. Many psychologists work in computer-related fields, like studying internet predators or helping investigate online fraud.

Work Environment.

People in this field usually work in office and court settings. A criminal psychologist might spend a considerable amount of time interviewing people, researching an offender’s life history, or providing expert testimony in the courtroom. In some cases, criminal psychologists may work closely with police and federal agents to help solve crimes, often by developing profiles of murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals.

Criminal psychologists are employed in a number of different institutions. Some work for local, state, or federal government, while others are self-employed as independent consultants. Still others opt to teach criminal psychology at the university level or at specialized criminology training facilities.


A criminal psychologist may also be asked to provide psychotherapy for people that have committed crimes. Their role is to help their clients cope with the consequences of criminal behavior and assist them in their rehabilitation so they can be productive members of society.

Criminal vs. Forensic Psychology.

Many people use the terms criminal and forensic psychologist interchangeably. People can identify as one or the other and engage in the same duties. However, there are some relevant distinctions. If you are talking about profiling a criminal that is likely the realm of criminal psychology. Most assessment is done by a forensic psychologist but it is not impossible for someone who identifies as a criminal psychologist to perform testing. Criminal psychologists review a lot of research and data in determining the psychological makeup of criminals but many people who conduct experimental research identify as forensic psychologists. Another distinction is that forensic psychologists deal with all types of legal matters, including civil cases, while criminal psychologists focus on criminal matters.


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