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How Do I Become a Criminal Psychologist?

Due to the ever-growing popularity of crime television dramas like Criminal Minds and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, criminal psychologists are among the most recognized within the psychology field. Each week on Law and Order, millions of Americans tune in to watch actors portray criminal psychologists and take the stand to testify in a court of law about a defendant’s mental health state. As one of the most crucial components within the criminal justice and legal system, criminal psychology is focused on investigating the state of mind and behavior for accused offenders to bear witness at trials. Many are involved firsthand in criminal investigations in order to study a criminal’s mind for abnormal behaviors, motives, emotions, thoughts, and mental health disorders.

If you are an individual who has a passion for crime novels or a healthy love for studying the anomalies of the mind, becoming a criminal psychologist might be the perfect option for a fulfilling criminal justice career. Since criminal psychologists are held to high responsibilities and a wealth of knowledge in their specialized field, extensive training is necessary to hold positions within criminal psychology. Not only must criminal psychologists have a broad expertise in psychology, they also must possess a keen understanding on the laws regarding mental health and criminal behavior. Read on to find a detailed guide to all the necessary qualifications that must be completed to become a criminal psychologist.

Education Requirements
The pathway towards a career in criminal psychology must begin by achieving a bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminal justice, or a related field major. While some universities in the United States do offer a criminal psychology degree at the baccalaureate level, most similar degrees will be acceptable to gain admissions into a graduate program. It is required for criminal psychologists to receive a doctoral degree in the field of criminal or forensic psychology, which will usually take between five and seven years of studies. Whether pursuing a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), the programs will include a rigorous curriculum on violence, criminal law, psychology in law, mental health assessments, and trauma cases.

Training and Professional Experience
Within a PhD or PsyD program, students are required to complete a minimum of a one-year full-time internship within a related agency or firm under the supervision of practicing psychologists. Although it is not specifically required for criminal psychologists, it is highly recommended that aspiring entrants into the field also complete a post-doctoral fellowship training opportunity to increase professional experience. Since it is unlikely that fresh new graduates will land a position in the competitive field immediately, most decide to get their foot in the door by working at law enforcement agencies, mental health hospitals, criminal justice departments, or even government offices.

Licensure and Certification
After passing at least 3,000 supervised hours of professional practice in the field, graduates with a doctorate degree must become fully licensed to legally practice as a criminal psychologist within the court or prison system. Requirements for licensure differ depending on state of practice, so some states will mandate that criminal psychologists pass a written examination that consists of both written and oral questions. Furthermore, criminal psychologists are encouraged to obtain certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for criminal and forensic psychologists within the criminal justice system is $86,380, which is equivalent to an average hourly wage of $41.53. Along with a pleasing average salary that has the potential for earning a sizeable six-figure salary, employment in criminal psychology is expected to rapidly grow by a rate of 22 percent from now until 2020. For those interested in a fascinating and rewarding in-demand career, right now is an excellent time to take the necessary steps to become a criminal psychologist.


Check out our Top Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs for 2015

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