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Psych and Crime

A degree in forensic psychology is for students who want to learn how psychological theory and research are used in the criminal justice system and related fields. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of human behavior, including criminality, as well as important skills in data analysis, writing, and research. The degree provides a knowledge base in the law and legal psychology, clinical practice in a forensic arena, criminal justice procedures, in addition to a foundation in social and experimental science-based psychology courses.

Depending on a particular school’s program, this degree might be offered as a specialization for psychology majors. Other schools may integrate the degree into their criminal justice or criminology degrees. Furthermore, schools may offer the degree through their College of Criminal Justice or Psychology. There is also the choice of a Bachelor of Arts or Science in Forensic Psychology. The same choice applies at the graduate level. We will examine the degree programs for both in this article.


A Forensic Psychology Specialization (18 credits) exposes you to the intersection between psychology as the study of human behavior and the legal system as society’s attempt to control human behavior. The courses in this specialization examine how the science and profession of psychology apply to the legal system. The curriculum critically analyzes the behavioral assumptions underlying legal issues and assesses how psychological knowledge might enhance or change current law. The program accomplishes this with classes in the Sociology of the Law, Law and Psychology, and Theories of Deviance.

Bachelor’s Degree

Whether the school offers a Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology through their College of Criminal Justice or Department of Psychology, the courses will be similar. The intent of your studies is to enhance the understanding of individual behavior, in terms of its biological, cognitive, social, and emotional components.  As a graduate of a B.A. program, you will have the skills for a number of careers in psychology, social work, law enforcement, or other criminal justice professions.

Similar to an Arts program, a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology studies the biological and neuroscientific aspects of psychology that are becoming increasingly important for both research and clinical forensic practice. The curriculum prepares students for careers and graduate training involving psychological research, clinical research, and legal policy research. Expect to have more classes devoted to the sciences. For example, courses in neuroscience, physiological psychology, the biology of human sexuality, criminology, and forensic mental health, among others.

Furthermore, both the B.A. and B.S. coursework provide a solid foundation that prepares students for the additional graduate-level study required to practice as a forensic psychologist.

Master’s Degree

At the graduate level, there is a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology. A typical curriculum allows students to acquire an advanced understanding of psychological development and psychopathology, personality assessment, psychotherapeutic techniques, and research methods. To achieve the learning objectives, expect to have classes in psychotherapy, psychopathology, addictions counseling, theories in psychotherapy, and personality assessment.

Graduates will be able to pursue careers in as clinicians who conduct therapy with forensic clients, either in forensic settings (e.g.,  jails, prisons, locked forensic units in state hospitals) or in the community with probationers or parolees. You can also seek employment to conduct research with a variety of justice-related agencies and organizations. Some students get jobs as forensic researchers, studying and evaluating at-risk populations. Graduates have also been accepted into federal law enforcement agencies.

Similarly, a Master of Science provides students with the professional training necessary to function at an optimal level in a variety of forensic settings. These include courts, law enforcement, criminal justice, national security offices, prisons, social services agencies, child welfare agencies, and treatment facilities.


One online graduate program offers the choice of ten (10) forensic psychology specializations such as Family Violence, Sex Offender Behavior, Cybercrimes, Terrorism, Legal Issues in Forensic Psychology, and Police Psychology. A partial list of the General program is courses in abnormal behavior, criminal behavior, forensic psychology research, and victimology. This broad curriculum provides an understanding of forensic psychology, as well as its application to a variety of settings. These involve correctional institutions, court systems, victim advocacy, and community-based programs.

Similar but Different Option

Students who prefer less emphasis on psychology may opt for a Master’s in Forensic and Correctional Counseling. Students enrolled in this type of program receive the training to work as mental health counselors with individuals, families, and systems that interface with the legal and criminal justice arena.  The purpose of the coursework is to prepare clinicians who will be able to assess, treat, consult, and apply a full array of counseling services in forensic and correctional settings. Classes cover topics as criminal behavior, theory and treatment of trauma, mental health counseling, and sex offender evaluation.