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What is forensic psychology and how is it different than criminal psychology?

Are you interested in improving the legal system and applying psychology within the field of criminal justice? Learn more about the field of forensic psychology today. 

Since the introduction of prime-time television crime shows such as “Law & Order: SVU” and “Criminal Minds,” interest in the connection between psychology and crime has increased dramatically. But while “Law & Order” focuses on the field of forensic psychology, shows such as “Criminal Minds” actually focus on the slightly different, yet closely associated field of criminal psychology.

While similar, it is important to note there are distinct differences between these two fields.

Read on to learn more about how forensic psychology differs from the similar study of criminal psychology and why that matters if you plan to pursue a career in the field of forensic psychology.


What is forensic psychology?

Forensic psychology is the application of psychology within the criminal and justice system. The American Psychology Association officially began recognizing it as a specialty field of psychology in 2001.

A forensic psychologist helps to influence and better the decisions made within the legal system.

Additionally, forensic psychologists can play a vital role in:

  • Jury selection
  • Family court
  • Assessment of witnesses
  • Criminal court
  • Civil court

As a forensic psychologist, the integration of psychology and the legal system can include the studies of public policy, the public’s view of criminals, demographics, the competence of a suspect to stand trial, workplace discrimination, and much more.

Professionals in the field are required to integrate the forensic psychology skills they’ve learned with clear, comprehensible, communication skills. Oftentimes, forensic psychologists are asked to deliver courtroom testimonies on behalf of the prosecution and/or defense.


How is forensic psychology different from criminal psychology?

Forensic psychology can often be confused with criminal psychology.

Psychology School Guide describes criminal psychology as the study of thought processes, intentions, motivations, and reactions of criminals. On the other hand, forensic psychology is centered on the analytical ability of the psychologist and the interpretation of scientifically validated data.

Criminal psychology is more theoretical based, used to help predict the behavior of the individual, while forensic psychology revolves more around the application of this theory.

A criminal psychologist may play a role in:

  • Assessing how likely a criminal is to re-offend
  • Providing suggestions on interview process strategy
  • Insight into the behavior of an individual after committing a crime
  • Theoretical assessments of a suspect before the perpetrator has been identified

Similar to forensic psychologists, criminal psychologists are asked to deliver expert testimonies on behalf of the prosecution or defense. Many criminal psychologists are self-employed, private consultants, or utilized by local, state, or federal governments.


Forensic psychologist requirements

As popularity has risen within the psychology field, the need for a competitive edge has become more apparent. This has also resulted in an increase of degree offerings.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers numerous M.A. in forensic psychology programs across the country, with concentrations in police psychology, sex offender, corrections, and more.

Due to forensic psychologists’ close relationship to the criminal justice system, many employers prefer to see candidates with an integrated law-psychology knowledge. The Chicago School also offers a two-year dual degree, which combines forensic psychology with a Master of Legal Studies from the Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law.

Interested in learning more about The Chicago School’s forensic psychology programs? Check out our forensic psychology programs page or fill out the form below to request more information.


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