How Do I Become a Criminal Psychologist?

When it comes to criminology and criminal justice paths, the career of the criminal psychologist often attracts a large share of interest. A lot of this is due to the popularity of Criminal Minds and related shows that glamorize the experience of profilers tracking down serial killers.

The real life job is not exactly the same as these TV portrayals, but it does provide the thrill of looking into the thought processes and behavior of criminals in order to determine why they ultimately decide to offend. In the real world, though, their role is much more behind the scenes. Criminal psychologists usually spend the majority of their time in the office, doing things like preparing official reports, researching cases and background of criminals and preparing for court appearances.

Criminal psychologists are frequently called upon to testify during cases, most often to attest to the accused’s mental state or ability to stand trial. In addition, criminal psychologists frequently interviews criminals as a part of their investigations. And some do develop criminal profiles to aid law enforcement in understanding and eventually capturing particular criminals, so in that respect there are some similarities to what you see on TV. Just remember that in real life the criminal psychologist isn’t going to bust in the door with the cops with guns drawn!

Some criminal psychologists do work for the FBI, which is the goal of many prospective students, but they are employed in a wide range of other settings as well. They also work for state and local law enforcement agencies and many even work independently.

All of this is necessary to understand because the qualifications for criminal psychologists vary depending on the setting and the type of duties that correspond with a particular position.

Education Requirements for becoming a Criminal Psychologist

A college degree is an absolute must for becoming a criminal psychologist, and in most cases a graduate degree will be needed. One advantage is that there is some flexibility at the undergraduate level: there is no one program that you must complete. Psychology itself is obviously a common choice, but a case could be made for why sociology or even biology would be a great choice.

It’s crucial to obtain real-world experience alongside the educational program, and there are a variety of jobs you can look into that would serve you well; for example, working in a juvenile detention center, with a probation officer, or even in a mental health facility. A paid position or internship of some sort would both be good to get on the resume.

Another great piece of advice is to look around and see if your school has a club or organization related to criminal psychology. There are also local and national conferences where leading criminal psychologists present research and this can be a great way to start to network and understand the career better. It’s also a great idea to stay up on recent research because the field changes rapidly.

After that, a graduate degree is going to be required in most cases. Be sure to check job postings in the state to see if a PhD in psychology is required to become a practicing psychologist (as it is in many).

There may be a variety of different graduate programs: some might actually be called forensic psychology; others may just be psychology with a specialization or focus in crime or forensics.

The requirements also vary in different countries around the world. A good strategy for assessing what education and skills you will need is to do some research on the type of job you eventually would like to apply for, and look at the requirements in the job postings.

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