How Do I Become a Criminal Psychologist?

If you enjoy working with people and wonder why people do the things they do, especially when those actions are illegal, you might wonder how to become a criminal psychologist. Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior. Criminal psychologists use the principles of psychology when working with criminals to understand why people commit crimes.

Most criminal psychologists work for law enforcement agencies at a local, state or federal agency level, while others open private practices. Criminal psychologists are sometimes called forensic psychologists, although that job description may differ somewhat. Criminal psychologists focus primarily on the motive and events that lead to a crime, while forensic psychologists are typically more concerned with the events that took place after the crime occurred.

The work of criminal psychologists contributed to the rise of the practice known as criminal profiling, popularized on television crime dramas. Though the daily lives of most real-life criminal psychologists are not as glamorous as television shows portray them to be, these professionals play an important part in understanding crimes. Criminal psychologists may also have clinical counseling responsibilities, especially in crisis situations. Some criminal psychologists counsel individuals who commit crimes on a long-term basis in the setting of a prison system.

Education is important when pursuing any career in the field of psychology. Most criminal psychologists begin their formal education by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related subject. Coursework in statistics, criminal justice, law and social psychology can be helpful for later schooling. The next step for aspiring criminal psychologists is to earn a master’s degree in psychology. To access many opportunities within this competitive field, aspiring criminal psychologists must hold a doctorate-level degree, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. During their graduate level education programs, students will study criminal psychology more specifically than they did as undergraduates, and they may have opportunities to participate in forensic research. Throughout their long academic career, aspiring criminal psychologists are encouraged to seek out opportunities to gain hands-on experience in the field through internships, research positions and other work experiences. After completing educational and experience requirements, criminal psychologists, like all psychologists, must obtain a license to practice.

As a whole, psychologists earn an average salary of $68,640 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, those with advanced education like that which is typically required to become a criminal psychologist can earn significantly higher salaries. A 2009 report by the American Psychological Association showed that doctorate-level psychologists in clinical and human services roles – including those who work in the criminal justice system – can earn up to $80,000 or $90,000 per year. If you communicate well with other people, have an interest in crimes and the legal system and often find yourself wondering why people act in certain ways, knowing how to become a criminal psychologist could be your first step toward an exciting new career that combines the dynamic fields of healthcare and law enforcement.

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