Criminal Psychologist Career Info, Job Duties and Requirements

Oct 20, 2021

In order to become a criminal psychologist, it is first necessary to earn one of two doctoral degrees--either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. Keep reading for more information on these degrees, and also to find details about other licensure and/or certification that may be required.

Essential Information

A criminal or forensic psychologist addresses the mental state of an individual who has committed a criminal offense. This process involves studying and observing the criminal's mind for intentions, thoughts and aberrant behavior. Becoming a criminal psychologist requires the completion of a doctoral program in forensic psychology.

Educational Requirements Ph.D. or Psy.D.
Other Requirements Depending on one's educational path, internships and licensure may be required.
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 3% (for all psychologists)
Median Salary (2021)** $72,372 (for forensic psychologists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **

Criminal Psychologist Career Outlook Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, employment of psychologists was expected to grow much faster than the national average through 2028. The BLS does not have specific numbers for criminal psychologists and instead bundles together psychologists working in different specialty areas. However, the BLS does report that the need for clinical psychologists will continue to rise.

Job Duties

A forensic psychologist assesses the mindset of an individual who has committed a crime. They often work independently and are called upon to testify in court to provide evidence. In addition to providing expert witness testimony, they may consult with court officials, prepare written psychological reports, interview criminal defendants and make determinations as to whether a criminal can stand trial. A criminal psychologist must also be familiar with laws concerning mental health and criminal behavior. Maintaining this knowledge might involve keeping current on any upcoming changes to existing legislation.

Educational Requirements

A doctoral degree in forensic psychology is required for a career as a criminal psychologist. Currently, there are two types of psychology doctoral degrees: the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology and the Doctor of Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.). The Ph.D. in Psychology is more research-based than the Psy.D. which prepares graduates for careers as practicing psychologists instead of researchers or scholars.

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Forensic Psychology

Many universities do not have dedicated Psy.D. programs in forensic psychology; rather they offer a general program with a specialization in forensic psychology as well as other areas. Instead of a dissertation, a Psy.D. program in forensic psychology requires the completion of a series of internships that provide students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field at various clinics. Some of these clinics might be located at a state court, hospital, prison or mental health center. Students always interact with patients under the supervision of a licensed health care professional or psychologist.

Before a student can complete internships, he or she must complete required courses in psychology and core classes in the area of forensic psychology. Some of the topics a student may encounter include adult psychopathology, mental health laws, forensic psychology for families and children and personality assessment. In addition to completing core and elective courses and the internships, a student may have to complete a doctoral project.

Licensure Requirements

Many states require practicing clinical psychologists to be licensed. However, the requirements for licensure differ from state to state. Generally, all candidates for licensure as a clinical psychologist must have graduated from a doctoral degree program and have at least one year of professional experience. They must also complete an internship that has been approved and recognized by the state in which they plan to practice. Additionally, some states require that clinical psychologists pass an examination that is composed of essay and oral questions.

Certification Requirements

Certification for psychologists is governed by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which awards certification in 14 psychology specialties. Forensic psychology is one of these specialties and candidates must pass a board examination to receive certification. Eligibility requires that candidates be licensed, have many years of experience and complete a period of postdoctoral training.

If you're considering a career as a criminal psychologist, it is important to understand the significant educational commitment required for a job in this field. Having a solid grasp of the job's responsibilities, such as testifying in court, is also important when determining if this is the right career choice for you.

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