Criminal Psychology Courses

By Mariza Halliday - Last update

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What is Criminal Psychology?

Psychology is the study of human behavior, thoughts, and the human mind. Criminal Psychology or Forensic Psychology is the study of the thoughts and behaviors of criminals in particular and as such is the branch of psychology that intersects with the legal system.

Criminal psychologists spend time studying criminals and their crimes to help law enforcement better understand patterns in behavior. Criminal psychologists might advise on jury selection, conduct research, evaluate and treat criminal offenders, or counsel law enforcement personnel and their spouses.

Forensic psychologists are trained to conduct unbiased interviews without posing questions that might lead the person in one direction or another. In addition to testifying in court, they interview children and/or parents in child custody and abuse cases; conduct competency assessments for the elderly; assess “men’s rea,” a person’s intent, for possible insanity pleas; evaluate for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); interview and counsel crime victims; screen law enforcement applicants; and assess threats made on schools.

What 3rd level courses are available?

Universities and colleges in Ireland are offering Criminal Psychology courses in the following subject areas:

  • Criminal Psychology – An introduction to Criminal Psychology and the functions of a Criminal Psychologist.
  • Forensic Psychology and Criminology –Learn about the processes and practices that are used to catch criminals and gain a better understanding of what crime is, why it occurs and how it is managed in today’s society.
  • Diploma in Criminology & Criminal Psychology – Gain a basic understanding of various fields of Criminology (the scientific study of crime) and Forensic Psychology from a historical, contemporary, and progressive perspective.
  • Criminology (QQI Level 5) – The study of crime, the causes of crime, types of crime, punishment, crime prevention, and the fear of crime.
  • Criminology – Gain a firm theoretical grounding in, and understanding of, contemporary criminological issues as well as thorough training in research skills.

Studying Criminal Psychology in college

Many Criminal Psychology courses take place over 1 year to 4 years depending on the course and modules selected. There are also part-time courses and night courses available so you can be sure to fit in your studies no matter what your schedule is like.

Courses will cover all theory work through lectures, assignments, tutorials, and taught modules. Assessments will take place continuously with written examinations and practical assignments combined to achieve a qualification.

You could also consider work experience or volunteering to help with mentoring young offenders, victim support, drug or alcohol treatment centers, and rehabilitation units.

Work and volunteer experience will not only allow you to obtain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the industry, but it will also give you a chance to do some essential networking with other industry professionals and gain valuable contacts for the future.

Career options

After completing a course in Criminal Psychology you will be able to get started in a career that uses specific knowledge of psychology and the legal system.

Forensic psychology careers are diverse and ever-growing and while many work with law enforcement to profile criminals, forensic psychologists may also work in a variety of other areas. For example, many forensic psychologists will work in the court system to help lawyers, judges, and juries better understand the motivations behind criminal behavior. Many choose this path to advocate on behalf of underserved populations, including those from lower-economic areas, children, or those with mental illness.

Your work as a forensic psychologist will mainly relate to the assessment and treatment of criminal behavior. You’ll work not only with prisoners and offenders but with other professionals involved in the judicial and penal systems as well as with victims of crime.

While you will be involved in criminal profiling, your role will stretch far beyond this. You’ll be heavily involved in providing research-based evidence to develop policy and working practices, as well as give evidence in court and advise parole boards and mental health tribunals. Your work will help to rehabilitate prisoners and you’ll have the chance to support and train other staff.

Working hours will depend on the career path you choose within the field. Criminal psychologists usually split their time between an office and court but can also spend some time in the field, in settings like crime scenes and jails so working hours will vary. You could work directly for government and law enforcement agencies or have your practice and work as a consultant to lawyers and law-enforcement agencies.

Working environments vary. In prisons, for example, you’ll need to acclimatize to noise and lock-up procedures. You need to be prepared to work with a range of offenders including young people, violent or sexual offenders, and offenders with severe personality disorders. You’ll also work closely with other staff groups, including prison officers, psychiatrists, and senior managers.

You may work in one location or across several sites, including prisons, secure hospitals, rehabilitation units, and police stations. You may also have to travel to court to provide expert witness testimony.

Related jobs include:

  • Criminal Psychologist
  • Forensic Research Psychologists
  • Forensic Social Worker
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counsellor
  • Crime Analyst
  • Correctional Counsellor
  • Jail Supervisor
  • Victim Advocate
  • Jury Consultant
  • Government Employee
  • Police Consultant
  • Probation Officer
  • Investigative Journalist

Further study

After completing a course in Common Law you may choose to pursue further study in a specialist field to increase your knowledge base and skillset. Postgraduate study can also be used as a means to change career focus or to gain professional qualifications required to practice in certain career areas such as teaching, training, or supervising others or to specialize in a particular area of forensic psychology, e.g. the assessment and treatment of sexual offenders.


What Does a Criminal Psychologist Do?

·         Profiling – Although criminal psychologists may visit a crime scene, they are more likely to spend time in an office with case files or in a record room poring over analyses of possible suspects. A large part of criminal psychology is looking over research and data relevant to cases.

·         Consultation – Criminal psychologists will often use their expertise to consult with law enforcement personnel on various aspects of a case. For example, they can help them ask appropriate questions during interrogation or give relevant information to help guide their investigation.

·         Assessment – Performing psychological testing to determine a suspect’s state of mind is an integral part of the adjudication process. For instance, a psychologist may have to determine whether a suspect is in a stable mental state to stand trial or if they have the personality characteristics to fit the alleged crime.

·         Research – Criminal psychologists may conduct research that has far-reaching practical implications on the study of criminology and the legal process.

·         Court Testimony – Criminal psychologists often have to appear in court to provide expert witness testimony. There are psychologists whose entire practice is based on giving their expert opinion.

·         Psychotherapy – A criminal psychologist may also be asked to provide psychotherapy for people that have committed crimes. Their role is to help their clients cope with the consequences of criminal behavior and assist them in their rehabilitation so they can be productive members of society.

Where can I study Criminal Psychology?

Explore your options here

Did You Know?

· Studies have found that two parts of the brain’s frontal lobe are significantly smaller in people with antisocial personality disorder, who tend to act violently and become repeat offenders.

· Psychopaths, especially those who commit violent crimes, may not have brains that register fearful expressions on others’ faces. In experiments, researchers have found that people with antisocial personality disorder have trouble recognizing faces showing fear and sadness.

· Criminology as the scientific study of the criminal goes back to the 19th century when Cesare Lombroso developed his theories about the origin of criminal traits and behavior. Victimology began in Europe after World War II as a way to understand the relationship between criminals and victims.

· Criminal psychologists can identify youth that is at risk of becoming crime perpetrators later in life and provide preventative services for them. A study published in the American Journal of Psychology found that 3-year-olds who participated in enrichment programs emphasizing healthy nutrition habits, exercise, and cognitive skills had a 34% reduction in criminal behavior at age 23, as compared to a control group.


Mariza Halliday

Health and Performance Science
Occupational Therapy Courses


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