Our first job in this article is to clear up a common misconception that concerns two areas of psychology that are used interchangeably in conversation and are often thought to be the same thing.
Criminal psychology is the study of everything related to criminal behaviour. That includes the motivations, intentions, thought processes and the reactions of criminals. A criminal psychologist is concerned with trying to answer the question: why do criminals do what they do?
Forensic psychology involves work with all different types of court cases, including civil matters that do not involve criminals. Forensic psychologists use their findings to improve the delivery of the legal system and ensure the results of the case are watertight.
Entry routes into criminal psychology
There are a number of different routes into criminal psychology. However, you will not be able to become a qualified criminal psychologist without a psychology degree as a starting point. You might be able to become an assistant psychologist without a degree, but you will not be able to progress past this level unless you achieve Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership by completing a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited degree.
To become a criminal psychologist in the UK, you will need to either:
- Complete a BPS-accredited masters in criminal psychology, which you might be able to do on a part-time or distance learning basis; or
- If you are a graduate in a subject other than psychology, you may be able to become eligible for Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership by completing an accredited conversion course. A list of all BPS accredited courses can be found on the BPS website.
To study criminal psychology at university level, you will need at least five GCSEs at grade A-C and three A-Levels. The most obvious subject to study at A-Level is psychology, although sociology will also give you a good overview of some of the skills and knowledge you’ll need. However, every university is different, so while some might expect to see a psychology A-Level, others will be happy to accept a different spread of subjects.
One incredibly important step is to make sure the degree course you would like to study is accredited by the British Psychological Society and is a Health Council approved programme. The field of criminal psychology is very competitive, so you will usually need at least a 2:1 degree to move onto postgraduate study in this role. You will also need to be able to demonstrate research skills and relevant experience in a hospital or a community service setting before you can progress.
As well as having an accredited masters or conversion degree, you will also be expected to have at least two years of experience in a similar role, either in a volunteer capacity or on a placement. Not only will this look good on your CV, but it will also help to differentiate your application from other graduates. This level of experience will also help to develop your social and communication skills in this field.
In terms of research skills, those studying a masters or PHD may choose to research a specific area of criminal behaviour that interests them. If you’re studying a degree course, it is well worth discussing your options with your tutor and exploring areas you may wish to study further.
The prison service is the leading employer of criminal psychologists. One aspect of their role is to rehabilitate offenders through one-to-one and group therapy sessions. This can often be with offenders who have substance abuse problems or anger management issues who require sensitive treatment.
Alternatively, if you take the assistant psychologist route into criminal psychology, you may be asked to assist in the treatment of people with severe mental orders. You could be asked to assess their psychological condition and determine the level of risk they present to themselves and the public.
Are you a qualified criminal psychologist looking for your next role? Please get in touch with our team today or register online to kick start your search.