Criminal psychologists are professionals specialising in the study of criminals. They assess their motivations, intentions, thought processes and reactions. The aim of a criminal psychologist is to find out why criminals do what they do.
Criminal psychologists are also often known as forensic psychologists, investigative psychologists and legal psychologists.
Although criminal psychology as a discipline has been around for over two hundred years, it has grown in visibility and popularity over the last twenty years. Thanks to the success of crime dramas in the UK and USA, criminal psychology is growing in popularity as a career option in the UK.
With increasing crime rates and the complexities of crime, a shortage of criminal psychologists in recent years means the position is increasingly well-regarded and well-paid.
What Does a Criminal Psychologist Do
As a criminal psychologist, you will be expected to assess the motivations, intentions, thought processes and reactions of criminals. Types of work falling within the remit of a criminal psychologist include:
- Profiling: Helping the police to create a psychological profile in order to catch a criminal.
- Researching: Examining case files for data relevant to a particular case.
- Consultation: In pursuit of a criminal, you will spend time advising police on how to proceed with various aspects of a case. This will include advising on appropriate questions to ask during interrogation.
- Court appearances: You will be expected to provide expert testimony to inform a case in court.
- Parole boards and mental health tribunals: You will also be expected to provide input into other legal forums.
- Clinical assessment: Determining the mental state of offenders and especially whether they are fit to stand trial.
- Risk assessment: Taking time to fully assess offenders and their risk of reoffending.
- Environmental advice: You may be called on to advise on reducing stress and improving life inside prisons.
- Psychotherapy: Helping people cope with the consequences of their criminal behaviour as part of their rehabilitation.
- Teaching: Criminal psychologists usually share their experiences and knowledge by teaching courses and presenting seminars at both universities and law enforcement training facilities.
You would also work with the wider criminology and healthcare family, including many other highly specialised professionals.
Who Employs Criminal Psychologists
Criminal psychologists in the UK mainly work in the public sector. Criminal psychologists can be found in a number of different institutions including criminal courts, correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies, mental health centres, and government departments. A smaller number work primarily in academic institutes teaching criminal psychology and criminology. They are all classed as public sector workers.
Some criminal psychologists will also work for themselves or for agencies. They are then hired by public bodies to offer advice and expertise. Both of these types of criminal psychologists will be classified as private-sector workers even though they are working contracts in the public sector.
Job Salary for a Criminal Psychologist
The official UK Government statistics on the job salary for a criminal psychologist places the starting wage at £27,000, which rises to £54,000 for those who have gained experience. The average salary is estimated at
Another source estimates the average criminal psychologist’s salary in the UK to be £49,872.96. This is based on a recorded minimum of £34,628 and a maximum salary of £70,765.
Some other figures are useful to allow you to compare salaries. In the UK, the national average wage is estimated to be around £30,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current National Living Wage (which must be paid to people aged 23 and over) means the minimum untaxed income for a 40-hour week is over £21,000 per year.
As with other jobs, there are significant regional differences in the salary of a criminal psychologist in different parts of the UK. Criminal psychologists in London and the South East of England are, like other professions, paid more than in other parts of the UK.
How Often is a Criminal Psychologist Normally Paid
Criminal psychologists can normally expect to be paid a salary every month. This is the standard method of payment for senior employees in the public sector.
Who Negotiates a Job Salary for a Criminal Psychologist
The salary levels of criminal psychologists are usually negotiated by the individual concerned.
What Sort of Contracts Do Criminal Psychologists Have
Criminal psychologists will have different forms of contracts if they work in the public sector. Private-sector criminal psychologists will often work as self-employed earners.
After completion of the training, a criminal psychologist’s pay increases significantly. Those working in the public sector will also have access to an excellent pension scheme and good holiday entitlement.
How to Become a Criminal Psychologist
Understanding the educational and training requirements to become a criminal psychologist is important if you want to become one. You will need to have a degree and more specialised training in order to qualify.
Qualifications/Courses – Criminal Psychologist
To become a criminal psychologist, you can either follow the accredited degree process or complete a doctorate programme. Both of these will involve qualifications at a university. To get into a university you will usually need 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and 3 A levels or equivalent.
There are several routes you can take to qualify in criminal psychology:
- Do a psychology degree or conversion course that is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). You will then need to do a Master’s degree in forensic psychology that is accredited by BPS. After this, there is a further two-year training period of supervised practice as part of stage 2 of the BPS qualification in forensic psychology.
- Some universities offer a doctorate programme in forensic psychology. This is the equivalent of an accredited Master’s degree and 2 years of supervised practice.
General Skills Required
- Strong emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure are required in a criminal psychologist.
- Superb research skills are always required, especially in processing case files and thinking laterally. You will also need to be highly organised, have a very good eye for detail, and have a good memory.
- You must be a good team player and be able to work constructively with others carrying out aligned tasks in crime prevention and healthcare.
- Extensive computer literacy is needed. You must be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently
- Confidentiality relating to cases is always required.
- Skilled criminal psychologists must also be trustworthy in all aspects of their work. A clean Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is required because you will be working with children or vulnerable adults.
Challenges of Being a Criminal Psychologist
- Any aspect of crime reduction is challenging for all the professionals involved, but being a criminal psychologist can be especially challenging because of the severity and seriousness of the crimes. Helping the police to solve crimes and preventing dangerous criminals from committing further crimes can be extremely satisfying and rewarding. But, at the same time, it is inevitably a complex and challenging job which comes with a great deal of stress.
- Criminal psychologists must be able to deal with highly complex and highly specialised challenges in cases. Exposure to unpleasant motivations, concepts and sights is part of the job.
- Maintaining a professional outlook which treats everyone involved in the process with respect, no matter how difficult a person is, is essential.
- Some aspects of the job can also be boring: it involves a lot of desk-based research working through archives in search of information, clues and insight.
- The scope of work is quite narrow compared to those in clinical psychology, with criminal psychologists mainly focusing on one specific case at a time. This means you must focus and persevere with often complex and harrowing cases.
- You must always be prepared for the unexpected. This work can be exciting but is also consistently challenging.
Type of Person Suited for this Work
- An extremely innovative and thoughtful person who can apply problem-solving and diagnostic skills with confidence.
- A person with a genuine interest in crime and, in particular, the psychology of crime.
- Someone with a calm and patient outlook and the ability to deal with stress.
- A criminal psychologist must have the willingness to continuously learn about human motivation and criminality. You must be prepared to keep learning about new issues in criminology and psychology throughout your working life.
- Excellent communication skills are needed because you will be working with a wide variety of different people from different walks of life and, usually, a wide variety of ages. This will include the families of criminals as well as the criminal themselves.
- You will also need to be able to work sensitively and constructively with criminals no matter their crimes. You will always need to be objective in dealing with all individuals.
- Criminal psychologists will need to be precise in their use of language both with patients and those affected by crime. This is an issue in all aspects of the work, including court appearances.
- Excellent problem-solving and diagnostic skills are essential for this role. Criminal psychologists must be able to deal with highly complex and highly specialised challenges in a developing area of medicine.
- Someone willing to learn as their career progresses and they build up a specialism.
General Expected Working Hours
As a criminal psychologist, you can expect to work at least a forty-hour week. The normal working hours will be between 8 am and 6 pm Monday to Friday. Some on-call work is likely if you are working primarily within the crime prevention service. Many criminal psychologists also study and research outside their standard working hours.
Some criminal psychologists can also work part-time as their career and seniority progresses.
Location of Work
Criminal psychologists can be found in a number of different institutions. Some are employed including private consultancy and hire themselves out to public services to help solve a crime. Others work permanently in criminal courts, correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies, mental health centres, and government departments. A smaller number work primarily in academic institutes teaching criminal psychology and criminology.
It is possible to build a successful and well-paid career as a criminal psychologist. Because of the shortage of criminal psychologists, promotion prospects may well be increased.
There are a number of career routes linked to criminal psychology including teaching in academia, research, or changing career location.
A specialisation is also an option. Many criminal psychologists have the opportunity to specialise and become experts in fields such as terrorism or cybercrime.
Highly experienced criminal psychologists also end up managing the psychology department in a prison, or you could move into a policy, strategy or management role.