What is a Criminal Psychologist and What Do They Do?

Whether you’re looking for probation jobs or are simply interested in the field, the world of criminal psychology can be a daunting and confusing place to head into, with a wide variety of career options and paths available. But what does a criminal psychologist actually do?

Criminal psychologists study the reasons and psychological processes behind criminal behaviour, helping to identify if prisoners are at risk of reoffending and providing evidence in difficult legal cases.

They may also be involved in creating psychological profiles (a discipline that took off all over the world in the 1960s) of suspected criminals, in order to help the police predict their future actions while on the run or in prison.

Criminal psychologists mostly work in offices and courtrooms, interviewing offenders, reading and learning new research papers, carrying out studies, testifying in court and advising the police, but there are many other possibilities and variations on the general theme.

They have a variety of employment paths, including police work, prison work and court work, or on a freelance, independent basis.

Criminal psychology is a difficult and complex yet highly rewarding field in which to work. Most criminal psychologist employers will require at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology, law or criminal justice.

Many universities in the UK now offer specific criminal psychology courses, which give all the training (including practical experience, working with real criminals and dissertation work) needed to work in the field or somewhere related.

Top criminal psychologists, with years of experience, can earn high fees as expert witnesses, writing research papers or working as university or guest lecturers.

Those working in the public sector, i.e. working for the government or the police, will earn around £20,000 to £30,000 a year for the first few years, which may rise up to £50-60,000 per annum with experience and promotions.

Experienced freelancers and researchers can earn considerably more, but lack the job security of a public sector employee doing similar work.

Although a rewarding and respectable job, criminal psychologists may have to work in stressful and unpleasant situations on a day to day to basis.

Interviewing criminals who may have committed violent or otherwise reprehensible crimes, viewing disturbing content in crime scene photos and hearing the testimony of traumatised or upset witnesses and victims are just some of the things a criminal psychologist might have to deal with in the course of their work; those of a squeamish disposition need not apply!

However, ultimately criminal psychology offers high job satisfaction, as you can be sure in the knowledge you are contributing to the catching and rehabilitation of criminals – thereby making the world a safer place for everyone.

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