As a profession, Psychology began more than a hundred years ago when Sigmund Freud began studies into human thinking and behavior. The Psychologist of today continues this tradition and within Criminal Justice Law, these are taking an increasing role in assessing defendants, assisting detectives, monitoring certain convicts, and aiding in rehabilitation.

The Role of a Psychologist in Criminal Justice and Law

A Psychologist is as much a student as a professional. As a student, the Psychologist continues a lifelong exploration into the human psyche, the study of the mind.

Sometimes referred to as a Forensic Psychologist, other times as a Criminal Psychologist, in the field of Criminal Justice and Law, specialized Psychologists often help police agents locate suspects and assess their frame of mind. This is important for many reasons such as understanding the motive for a crime, discovering whether a defendant is of sound mind for trial, whether a defendant should be sentenced to prison or a special medical facility, and more.

One of the elements of a crime is the Mens Rea, or mental state. This has to do with intent. Did the suspect willingly and knowingly intend to do harm? Did the suspect know what they did was wrong according to society? Knowing the answers to these questions allow police detectives and prosecutors to move forward with a case in the best way possible without wasting resources. The Criminal Psychologist plays a key role in this activity.

Training and Preparation for a Career as a Psychologist

In most states, the minimum requirement for a career as a Psychologist is a 4 year degree combined with a PhD in Psychology. In a few states, such as Texas, a Masters degree coupled with special licensing from the state is permitted.

Old School Criminal Psychology
Old School Criminal Psychology (Photo credit: Psychology Pictures)

In any case, the student seeking to prepare for a career as a Criminal Psychologist would likely obtain a BS in Criminal Justice prior to gaining an advanced degree. A Minor in Psychology would be advisable, if only for the credentials and connections required to gain entry into a Doctoral program. A period of internship is generally expected so the student of Psychology should expect to spend a considerable amount of time working with the mentally challenged in environments such as state hospitals, private mental wards, and social work organizations.

How to Apply for a Position as a Psychologist

Once the proper degrees are earned, the Psychologist would begin seeking employment via any number of agencies. Social Services organizations, Probation and Drug Courts are good starting points, and in major cities employment may be gained directly for police departments.

Additional Information Related to a Career as a Psychologist

To be effective, a Criminal Psychologist must have a deep interest in aberrant behavior. The Criminal Psychologist cannot simply obtain degrees and stop there. Continued education is recommended along with studies into criminal human behavior. The Criminal Psychologist can never know enough about human thinking and behavior and must be constantly seeking to further understand the motivations behind criminal actions.

Median Salary of a Psychologist

The median wage for Psychologists in 2012 was $69,280 per year or $33.31 per hour.

Is a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist the Same?

No, Although both the Psychologist and the Psychiatrist are considered Medical Doctors, most Psychiatrists hold advanced PhD’s. These are therefore able to prescribe medications to patients for treating mental illness. A Psychologist by contrast does not usually have this ability and if he/she does, it is usually permitted under the supervision of a licensed Psychiatrist.

The Criminal Justice system, most notably Correctional Facilities, utilize both. The Psychologists will counsel patients, working with the cognitive issues while the Psychiatrist will prescribe and monitor medications provided to inmates with mental disorders.

In more practical terms, however, the Psychiatrist is seldom seen on the floors of the prison. Psychologists by contrast often visit mentally ill inmates in private offices and dayrooms nearer to the cells.

“In nearly a year working for a mental health prison, not once did I see or meet the prison Psychiatrist, nor did I ever escort a single inmate to see one. I found it odd though that the Psychiatrist regularly prescribed medications for scores of inmates without a single visit. The Psychologists on the other hand were nearly always present. When I asked about this, I was told it was ‘normal.'” C J Oakes

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