A criminal psychologist is a person who studies the personality of criminals who have been convicted or who are being prosecuted, sometimes with the goal of rehabilitating them, but more often to help courts and law enforcement officials understand criminal tendencies and influences. These experts frequently work with suspects, and in some cases, a court may order an analysis — usually when there is a question about whether the suspect has diminished mental ability or some other impairment that could render him or her incompetent to stand trial. People with this kind of training, regardless of their specialty, usually work directly with the accused and often have a therapist-patient relationship with them. Typically, the psychologist will devote a significant amount of time to observing and analyzing criminal actions, thoughts, reactions, and intentions. The field is quite broad, and people with this kind of training can accomplish a lot.
Getting a General Understanding of the Field
The field of psychology is vast, and the options for those interested in criminal minds and tendencies are equally diverse. The most basic way to think about this type of work is as a scientific approach to figuring out why people commit crimes and what factors in society or the home can encourage or discourage this behavior. Criminal psychologists typically begin their education studying psychology in general, which is defined as the study of how the human mind functions and allows people to function in complex sociological situations.
Professionals can then concentrate their efforts on those who have committed crimes. The goal is usually to figure out not only why people break the law, but also what, if any, differences exist between criminals and law-abiding citizens’ brains. There are numerous approaches to this question, as well as numerous options available to those working in this field.
A criminal psychologist looks into a person’s subconscious to see what led him to commit the crime in the first place, in addition to studying the basic actions involved in criminal behavior. This typically entails a series of one-on-one meetings. These are sometimes ordered courts, usually when criminals are preparing for trial; they can also occur after a conviction, usually in prisons or detention centers. Psychologists frequently assess suspects or observe interrogations in order to detect evidence of guilt or innocence.
Situations at Work
The information gleaned from evaluations is used in a variety of ways psychologists. They are frequently called upon to give expert testimony in court about a particular person. This can provide insight into the accused’s mind and assist the judge or jury in understanding why the crime occurred or what motivated the accused to act.
This type of work also plays an important role in law enforcement. Murderers, sexual predators, and other hardened criminals are frequently profiled professionals. When it comes to anticipating crimes or identifying possible suspects in unsolved cases, a criminal psychologist’s expertise can be invaluable. When psychiatrists were enlisted to help profile Adolf Hitler in the 1940s, the trend of criminal psychology profiling began. These psychologists have remained influential in modern criminology innovations that have helped define emerging investigative sciences since that time.
Outside of courtrooms and active law enforcement, a criminal psychologist can work in a variety of settings. Many psychologists choose to open their own practices or teach criminal justice and forensic psychology at government agencies or universities. Private practice usually generates more revenue, especially if the person chooses to provide expert court testimony as a sideline. Expert witnesses can command a high fee in many places, though much depends on the market as well as the individual’s experience and credibility in the field.
Criminal anthropology is a branch of criminal psychology that is related to it. A person with more anthropological training may be asked to examine a victim’s bones in order to determine things like the murderers’ mental state at the time of the murder. The psychologist learns how to use the forensic clues left behind in the bones or other material to define the pattern, or modus operandi (MO), of individual criminals after receiving specialized training. Both law enforcement and justice system personnel require this type of information on a regular basis.
How to Begin in the Field
The educational requirements for a career in criminal psychology differ from country to country. In most cases, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, or criminal psychology is required. People with this level of basic training can usually perform basic analysis and participate in evaluations, but they can’t usually be lead investigators. A master’s degree or a Ph.D. is usually required for more advanced work. Although there is often a lot of room for advancement in this field, it is generally true that the more education a person has, the more likely he or she will be to command authority and influence.