Criminal Psychology: Prerequisites to entering the Profession

The increasing popularity of crime series on television and online streaming platforms has made criminal psychology one of the most sought-after fields today. Whereas dramas like Law and Order and Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) portray these professionals glamorously; depicting that their testimony alters the expected judgment in the court of law, the reality is that this profession requires attention to detail, extensive research and training. Besides, it puts a big responsibility on the shoulders of the criminal psychologists, as their statement may significantly affect the decision regarding someone’s life.

Therefore, it is important to understand the role of a criminal psychologist in detail before opting for this profession.

What does a criminal psychologist do?

The simple answer is: s/he tries to uncover the reason why a convict got involved in criminal activities in the first place. Such a professional also studies the minds of accused criminals and tries to identify patterns reflecting abnormalities with respect to emotional, behavioral and mental well-being. For this very reason, criminal psychologists are assigned the task of offender profiling by organizations like the FBI, so as to aid them during the investigation process.

Furthermore, these professionals help the authorities solve cases by helping them understand the thought process of a criminal’s mind. Often, they are required to testify in the court and make statements regarding their assessment of the accused’s mental state. Once the accused has served the punishment declared by the court, services of criminal psychologists are again needed to predict how likely the individual is to get involved in a similar offense in future. These educated guesses then determine the extent of counselling needed by criminals.

Despite consisting of so many complex and inter-related tasks, the field of criminal psychology excites many who are on the verge of making a decision for their career path. However, there are certain prerequisites to entering this profession.

Listed below are the requirements that must be met before one can successfully qualify as a criminal psychologist.

Academic qualification

The first and foremost criteria to enter any professional field is the relevant qualification. Therefore, acquiring an undergraduate degree in psychology will be the initial step towards becoming a criminal psychologist. However, a doctorate degree in forensic psychology will be required to land a job as a specialist in this profession. Although for most other professional fields within psychology, a master’s degree is enough to start practicing, the bar for this particular field is a tad bit higher.

Those aspiring to meet the educational requirements for their dream job must remember that acquiring a doctorate degree may take somewhere between five to seven years. These individuals should also be mentally prepared for extensive exposure to content that might be disturbing; including crime stories, violence, traumatic events, and criminal thought processes.

Exposure to the practical world and relevant work experience

Since practical exposure is necessary along with academic knowledge, both Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees require students to carry out an internship under the guidance of professional psychologists. The duration of this internship has to be at least one year.

Though this requirement is applicable to all students, and not specific to those wishing to pursue their career in criminal psychology, the experience would definitely help build their CV. Also, it must be remembered that no fresh graduate is likely to be hired as a criminal psychologist instantly. (S)he will need to gain some prior experience through internships and jobs.

Licensure and certification

Receiving a license means that one is officially authorized to work as a criminal psychologist. However, obtaining this license is not a piece of cake. It involves undergoing rigorous supervision for a minimum period of 3000 hours, that is in addition to meeting the academic requirements. This gives rise to the question: what are the criteria which have to be met in order to qualify for getting a license. There is no standard answer to this question because the requirements vary from one state to the other. Therefore, you might need to do your own research with respect to your area of residence. However, the procedure in most states does require the applicant to pass an exam that consists of verbal as well as written assessments.

Some professional certifications are valued across the country and may significantly improve employment opportunities for a criminal psychologist. These are usually recommended to strengthen the individual`s profile. One example of such certification is the one issued by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

We hope that by now the misconception created by television shows regarding the job description of a criminal psychologist must have been cleared. Though the remuneration packages offered to these professionals are no doubt, attractive, the job also requires a significant amount of input in terms of qualifications as well as performance. This can be reflected by the fact that besides having an in-depth knowledge of psychological theories, a criminal psychologist must also remain up to date with the latest laws regarding criminal justice and mental health.

However, those interested in adopting this profession regardless of the challenges, may be pleased to know that employment in this field is expected to rise in the upcoming years. Also, there is significant potential for earning a handsome salary once a person proves his/her performance. Therefore, we can conclude that the gains and satisfaction of adopting one’s desired profession may be worth the efforts required to qualify as a criminal psychologist.

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