We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What does a Criminal Psychologist do?

By Stacy Taylor
Updated Mar 02, 2024
Our promise to you
Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Practical Adult Insights, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A criminal psychologist is a professional who studies the personality of convicted criminals or people undergoing prosecution, sometimes with the aim of rehabilitating them but often also as a way to help courts and law enforcement personnel understand criminal tendencies and influences. It's often the case that these experts work with suspects, and in these cases the analysis is sometimes ordered by a court — often when there is a question as to whether the suspect has diminished mental ability or some other hindrance that could make him or her incompetent to stand trial. No matter their specialty, people with this sort of training typically work directly with the accused, and often have a therapist-patient relationship with them. The psychologist will usually spend a lot of time observing and analyzing criminal actions, thoughts, reactions, and intentions. The field is quite broad and people can do a lot with this sort of training.

Understanding the Field Generally

The field of psychology is a big one, and the options for those with an interest in criminal minds and tendencies is similarly wide-reaching. The most basic way to think about this sort of work is as a scientific approach to understanding why people turn to crime, and what things in either society or the home can either promote or discourage this tendency. People with criminal psychology training usually start out studying psychology generally, which can be described as the way the human mind works and allows people to function in complex sociological scenarios.

From here, professionals can focus their attention on those who have committed crimes. The goal is usually to understand not only why people break the law, but also what, if any, difference exists in the brains of criminals versus the brains of normal, law-abiding people. There are many different ways to approach this question, and accordingly many different possibilities for people working in this field.

Patient Evaluations

In addition to studying the basic actions involved in criminal behavior, a criminal psychologist tries to dig deep into a person’s subconscious to figure out what caused him to commit the crime in the first place. This usually involves a series of personal, one-on-one meetings. Sometimes these are ordered by courts, usually when criminals are preparing for trial; they can also happen post-conviction, often in prisons or detention facilities. Psychologists frequently also evaluate suspects, or observe interrogations in order to pick up signs of either guilt or innocence.

Work Settings

There are a number of things psychologists do with the information they glean from evaluations. They are often asked to provide expert testimony about the person in court, for instance. This can gives the judge or jury insight into the mind of the accused, and can also help them make sense of why the crime happened or what motivated the accused person to act.

There is also an important role for this sort of work in law enforcement. Professionals are often called on to profile murderers, sexual predators, and other hardened criminals. A criminal psychologist’s knowledge can be really important when it comes to anticipating crimes or identifying possible suspects in unsolved matters, too. The trend of criminal psychology profiling began in the 1940s when psychiatrists were enlisted to help profile Adolf Hitler. Since that time, these psychologists have remained instrumental in the modern criminology innovations that help define emerging investigative sciences.

There are also opportunities for a criminal psychologist to work outside of courtrooms and active law enforcement. Many psychologists opt to set up a private practices or go on to teach criminal justice and forensic psychology for government agencies or at universities. Private practice typically produces more income, especially if the person chooses to provide expert court testimony on the side. In many places, expert witnesses can charge a lot for their services, though much of this depends on the market as well as the person’s experience and credibility in the field.

Relationship to Anthropology

Criminal anthropology is a related branch of criminal psychology. A person with more anthropological training may be asked to examine a victim’s bones to help do things like determine the murderers’ mindset at the time of the killing. With specialized training, 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. This sort of information is often really important to both law enforcement and justice system personnel.

Getting Started in the Field

Education requirements for a career in criminal psychology vary across the world. Most areas require at least a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, or criminal psychology. People with this level of basic training can usually do simple analysis work and can often participate in evaluations, but they can’t usually be lead investigators. More advanced work usually requires a master's degree or Ph.D. There is often a lot of upward mobility in the field, but just the same, it’s usually true that the more education a person has the more likely he or she will be when it comes to commanding responsibility and being influential.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon945455 — On Apr 13, 2014

I'm very interested in forensics and police work. Is there any job that allows me to be a psychologist and a cop at the same time? I want to help solve crimes like a criminal psychologist, but I also want to be in the action, make arrests and use a gun like a cop.

By anon138530 — On Jan 01, 2011

I am a high school student who is very interested in criminal psychology. I want to work for an investigation department as a profiler. What kind of college and courses should I attend? And can you names some great colleges at this major?

By Crispety — On Sep 04, 2010

Criminal psychologist salaries can range from $49,000 in a locale like Houston to $65,000 in Miami.

Criminal psychologist that provides expert witness testimony can make a six figure salary easily. These criminal psychologist jobs are available in police departments and government entities like the F.B.I.

By sneakers41 — On Sep 04, 2010

Sunshine31-I think that a criminal psychologist career would be fascinating. Usually in order to become a criminal psychologist you have to have a PhD.

In order to treat those afflicted with criminal tendencies you would need a PsyD or a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on criminal and deviant behavior.

It you are seeking to perform research in the field, and then a PhD in criminology or psychology with research on criminal behavior is sufficient.

Some schools are starting to offer criminal psychologist degrees directly, but you have to make sure the school is accredited.

By sunshine31 — On Sep 04, 2010

Moldova- Criminal justice psychologists study criminal behavior and why it occurs in some people and not others.

They often take a holistic approach and include information on the criminal’s childhood. Many famous criminal psychologists like Alice Miller always denote how a criminal's level of crime escalates from childhood.

Often noting that first, they are cruel to animals because they have no remorse and later progress to people.

By Moldova — On Sep 04, 2010

A criminal profiler links information pertaining to a crime to a possible suspect.

The profiler who researched crimes at length will out together psychological as well as potential physical characteristics of what the suspect may be like for a given crime.

For example, criminal justice psychologists may determine that based on the crime and how it was committed, the profile of the person falls into a specific category. Based on previous case studies, the forensic psychologist can compile a threat risk assessment on where the suspect will strike next.

Practical Adult Insights, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Practical Adult Insights, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.