How to Become a Criminal Psychologist


Criminal psychologists study the behaviors, motives, and intentions of criminals from the point of view of mental health. Criminal psychologists often work alongside the police to help them understand why an individual may have committed a certain crime.[1] If you’d like to become a criminal psychologist, you need to earn a doctoral degree in psychology, and then earn a criminal psychology license.

Part 1
Meeting Educational Requirements

Meeting Educational Requirements on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

1
A BA or BS is required for admission to any doctoral program. If you’re already studying Psychology as an undergraduate, you may have a leg up on the competition. While not all doctoral programs in Psychology strictly require a BA in Psychology for admission, it may help your chances.[2] If you are not majoring in Psychology, consider earning a minor in Psychology or Criminal Justice.

Meeting Educational Requirements on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

2
Nearly all Criminal Psychology doctoral programs require applicants to take these two GRE exams, which will be offered at different testing centers on different days. The GRE exams will test your critical thinking and writing skills, and your general proficiency in undergrad-level psychology.[3] In order to sign up for the General and Psychology GRE tests, you’ll need to set up an account with ETS (the company that provides the tests). You can make an account and register for the exams here: .

Meeting Educational Requirements on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

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The university admissions departments will expect to receive these scores electronically, and may not consider your application until the scores are in-hand. Through the ETS website, you can select specific schools to send the scores to. If you know which schools you’ll apply to before you take the GRE(s), you can have your scores sent to Ph.D. program admissions departments immediately after you finish the tests.

Meeting Educational Requirements on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

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Look for Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs that offer a degree in Clinical Psychology and allow a specialization in Forensic or Criminal Psychology. Alternately, Ph.D. or Psy. D. programs may offer a specialization in Clinical Forensic Psychology.[4] U.S. universities that offer a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Criminal or Forensic Psychology include Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, and the University of Pennsylvania. The Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) focuses on theory and research. The Psy.D. (doctor of psychology) focuses on practice and experience.[5]

Meeting Educational Requirements on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

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An internship is an integral part of most Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs in criminal psychology. Finding a good internship program can take time, but your Department and faculty advisor will help you. Finding an internship is competitive, but it will provide important knowledge and experience for your eventual certification as a criminal psychologist.[6] Your internship may be with a practicing clinical psychologist, with a police department, or in a prison or juvenile detention facility.[7]

Meeting Educational Requirements on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

6
While a post-doc is not required for most criminal psychology jobs, it will increase your chances of being hired. Criminal psychology is a competitive field, and a post-doc will give you a leg up over other candidates with a Ph.D.[8] You may also be able to find a post-doc in forensic psychology. While the fields are not the same, they substantially overlap.

Part 2
Becoming Licensed as a Criminal Psychologist

Becoming Licensed as a Criminal Psychologist on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

1
Before you can become a fully licensed psychologist, you will need to complete a predetermined number of supervised practice hours. In these supervised hours, you’ll see clients and do other work in the criminal psychology field, while overseen by a professional.[9] If your internship supervisor appreciated your work as an intern, they may hire you back for your licensing hours. Otherwise, speak with your academic advisors and professors, and ask for their help finding a position in which to complete your licensure hours. The number of hours required for licensure vary from state to state in the U.S. It’s not uncommon for a state to require 3,000 supervised hours for licensure.[10]

Becoming Licensed as a Criminal Psychologist on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

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Once you’ve completed your doctoral degree, you need to pass a written examination, provided by the state. This will begin your criminal psychology certification process. Contact the Board of Psychology to enquire about and register for the exam.[11] Certification requirements can vary by state. To determine the requirements for the state in which you plan to practice criminal psychology, consult the state’s Board of Psychology. For example, if you’re trying to contact the Minnesota Board of Psychology, visit: .

Becoming Licensed as a Criminal Psychologist on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

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The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) awards certification to psychology professionals who have specialized in one area of psychological practice.[12] To learn more about the certification process, and to apply for the certification, visit: . While not every state requires the ABPP certification prior to practicing criminal psychology, it will make you a more competitive job applicant in the field.

Becoming Licensed as a Criminal Psychologist on How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

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Criminal psychology jobs are competitive, and often tough to get. Recent doctoral graduates—even with postdoc experience and certification—often start out in positions with hospitals, police departments, and government agencies.[13] Your academic and professional contacts can help you locate suitable jobs to apply for. If you’d like to work as a criminal psychologist in law enforcement—e.g. with the FBI—you’ll need to join a law enforcement organization, such as the local police department. As you gain ranks, you can transition into a criminal psychology role.