Criminal psychology is a relatively new field and one that offers exciting opportunities.
There are many different career paths you can take in criminal psychology, from working as a profiler for law enforcement agencies to teaching at university to working in private practice as a criminal psychology consultant.
However, before you can begin your career in criminal psychology, you first need to get the appropriate education.
The question is, what do you need to do to become a criminal psychologist? This guide provides answers!
Step 1: Complete Your First-Degree Education
To become a criminal psychologist, the first thing you need to do is complete your first-degree education.
Your studies at this level will most likely not be in criminal psychology, as it is a specialty that is typically not offered for first-degree studies. Instead, you might pursue coursework in psychology, criminology, criminal justice, or a related field.
First-degree programs usually take about four years to complete, provided that you study full-time. If you attend school on a part-time basis, completing a first-degree program might take an additional one to two years.
Regardless of your major, the studies in your first-degree program will be very general. Since a first-degree program is intended to expose you to many different disciplines, you will take courses that range from maths to humanities to biological science. You can expect that roughly half of the courses you take for your first-degree program will be these general, wide-ranging types of classes.
The other half of the course you take in a first-degree program will concentrate on your area of specialty. So, for example, if you major in psychology, this coursework will be in general psychology topics. Specifically, the classes you take might include, but are not limited to:
- Introduction to psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Abnormal psychology
- Behavioural psychology
- Experimental psychology
Some first-year programs might include job shadowing or internship opportunities. If you want to be a criminal psychologist, this is a prime chance to observe what the job is like in a real-world setting.
Not only is there a lot of practical experience to gain from a job shadowing or internship experience, but the knowledge you acquire can help you get into a specialised master’s degree program in criminal psychology.
Step 2: Get a Master’s Degree
The next step in the process of becoming a criminal psychologist is to complete a master’s degree from an accredited school.
Generally speaking, a master’s degree in this field will take about two years of full-time study to complete. But, again, if you attend school part-time, you’ll find that the timeline for completing the degree will be extended.
You have various options in terms of the specialisation you choose. For example, there are master’s degree programs in criminal psychology and forensic psychology, both of which will prepare you well for a future career in this field.
But you might also choose to get a master’s degree in a field like criminology or criminal justice that offers a specialty in criminal psychology. In some cases, you might find that you can double-major and get master’s degrees in both psychology and criminal justice.
While you can find entry-level careers with just a bachelor’s degree in this field, to work specifically as a criminal psychologist, you will need to have at least a master’s degree. However, to advance your career to the furthest point, it’s worth considering getting a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., both of which are terminal degrees, to afford yourself the greatest job opportunities.
Fortunately, you can work as a criminal psychologist while you pursue a doctorate. It will take anywhere from three to five years to complete a doctorate, so being able to have a career at the same time is quite important.
Step 3: Develop Relevant Skills
Throughout your first-year program and master’s degree work, it’s necessary that you work to develop the requisite skills for being a criminal psychologist, in addition to acquiring the relevant knowledge of criminal psychology.
There is a wide range of skills that you will need to be an effective criminal psychologist. These include, but are not limited to:
- Excellent problem-solving abilities
- Well-developed critical thinking skills
- Attention to detail
- Ability to work independently and as part of a team
- Ability to work under pressure
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
Additionally, criminal psychologists must be able to remain objective in their work. Objectivity is the key to providing effective services, be that to law enforcement, the judicial system, or independent clients.
Your studies in school will certainly help you focus on these areas. But even after you complete your master’s degree, it’s necessary to keep learning, gaining new skills, and studying new techniques. This can be done in continuing education courses that are provided by professional organisations like the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology
Roy Lee is a freelance writer and a licensed counsellor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a MS in Counselling. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education. Roy has over 10 years of professional counselling experience. Apart from professional practice, he has been working with various professional bodies for over 10 years as a freelance writer.