What’s the difference between criminal and forensic psychology?

So, it is easy to believe that you want to follow a career in criminal profiling – but truth is, that the reality is far from the television shows.

Since the beginning of civilization we have been curious about why a person behaves as they do. When it comes to criminal behaviour, this curiosity deepens, and we have become obsessed. But what compels us to want to dwell inside the mind of a killer?

There are three reasons why our nation can’t get enough of true crime.

  1. People like to gawk at terrible things to reassure themselves that they are safe;
  2. Most true crimes on TV and in books are offered as a puzzle that people want to solve. This gives us a sense of closure.
  3. It is also a challenge that stimulates the brain.

Turns out, these three experiences in combination can become addictive. So, it is easy to believe that you want to follow a career in criminal profiling – but truth is, that the reality is far from the television shows.

Secondly, while a career in forensic psychology is quickly climbing the ladder of popularity, it is important to note that there are less than 50 forensic psychologists actually practicing in Australia, and the demand the job isn’t growing.

Before we tell you the difference between Criminal Psychology vs. Forensic Psychology we want to clarify that you’ll need to be pretty mathematically minded to enter either of these fields. To land a role you’ll need to study psychology; and keeping in mind that you will need to do at least Honours to become an accredited psychologist (adding one or more year(s) to your degree) this is in total a 7 year course.

If you have kept reading, you must be pretty damn determined for a life of solving crime. Clearly a competitive field, one way to get your foot in the door is aiming toward a role within the Australian government justice system and looking into criminal psychology. If you take this route, during your compulsory student supervision time we recommend working in your state’s justice system. This will see you working in something very similar to forensic psychology and once you are within the justice system you can see what roles/requirements are out there for forensic psychology.

Criminal Psychology vs. Forensic Psychology

Criminal psychology is the field of psychology which focuses on criminals and criminal behaviour with the aim of understanding why criminals commit crimes.

The role of a criminal psychologist extends to assessing offenders and their risk of reoffending (this will affect their sentencing in court) and so, they will commonly be used to provide expert testimonies in court. But what does this mean?   Well, for example if someone starts a bushfire, a criminal psychologist will look to determine the motivation, intention and likelihood of them doing it again.

Another important part of the job is their ability to help a police investigation narrow down the search for the perpetrator of a crime. A profile which can provide an age range, type of employment, marital status and education and behavioural information can be of great benefit to police in their hunt. But a criminal profile can go further into detail than this, an understanding of the psychology of an offender can also bring insights into how they may have behaved at the crime scene. For example, whether they have taken items from the scene or from the victim directly, why they may have done this and what they may have done with them.

Ok… so to be clear, the label of ‘criminal psychology‘ is often used interchangeably with ‘forensic psychology’ and while there is some overlap there are also some clear differences in the two disciplines.

Forensic psychologists primarily provide their expertise within the criminal justice system where they apply their knowledge to criminal investigation and law.

While this can involve aspects of profiling and developing a criminal profile within an investigation, forensic psychologists spend most of their time in the judicial system and are not often directly involved in assisting law enforcement in solving a crime or hunting down a criminal. They are employed in a variety of areas, including:

  • Courts and other tribunals.
  • Mental health (both general services and forensic mental health services).
  • Corrections (adult and juvenile, prisons and community).
  • Child protection.
  • Family services (e.g., family violence counselling services, parent training programs).
  • Alcohol and other drug services.
  • Rehabilitation services (e.g., pain clinics, head injury services).
  • Academia, research and policy organisations.
What’s the difference between criminal and forensic psychology?
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top