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How Do I Choose the Best Criminal Psychology Courses?

Elizabeth West
Elizabeth West

Choosing the best criminal psychology courses depends largely on the type of work you wish to do. Forensic psychologists use psychological concepts within the criminal justice system to evaluate the competency of defendants, act as expert witnesses in court, and may provide counseling services to law enforcement. Certain universities have academic programs specifically designed for criminal psychology students, and have an emphasis on psychology and the law. A doctorate degree is required to practice, and you will need to obtain board certification after that.

A bachelor’s or master’s degree may allow you to become a counselor or therapist, but a professional forensic license must be obtained at the doctorate level. You can then evaluate defendants, counsel police officers, testify in a court of law, or assist investigative teams in profiling unknown subjects. Criminal profiling has been a popular reason for enrollment in criminal psychology courses, although in reality it only makes up a tiny part of the forensic psychologist’s job.

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Woman posing

There are two types of degrees most forensic psychologists earn. A Ph.D program contains criminal psychology courses more oriented to research and teaching positions, while a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) program will prepare you for clinical work. Practicums in the Psy.D programs may allow you to gain clinical experience in the criminal justice system. If you are seeking a career path in this area, you might want to look into programs that offer field internships. Five to seven years of graduate study is the usual time frame for the coursework to be completed.

Most programs contain criminal psychology courses covering aspects of law, risk assessment oriented toward determination of violence, and treatment of antisocial behavior. They also will include the requisite clinical training most psychology students receive in preparation for therapeutic practice. A dissertation is usually required for a Ph.D but not for Psy.D, although programs may vary. Practicum and internship experience allow you to test your new skills in the field. For a research position in forensic psychology, you may not be eligible for licensure after course completion, and most likely will not need it.

In the US, in order to obtain certification after your criminal psychology courses are completed, the program will have to be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). It must also meet standards set by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) in order to satisfy licensure requirements. There are no international standards for certification in criminal psychology, and no accredited programs in continental Europe. If you are outside the US, you may wish to look into a graduate program abroad.

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