Criminal Psychologist vs. Forensic Psychologist

Both criminal psychologists and forensic psychologists work with the legal system.
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Although criminal and forensic psychology offer women two unique, exciting career options, many people confuse the two terms. The most obvious difference between a criminal psychologist and a forensic psychologist is that, while both work closely with the legal system, a criminal psychologist uses her psychological expertise to evaluate criminals, while a forensic psychologist may not evaluate criminals at all, let alone exclusively. Still, many of the techniques used by both criminal and forensic psychologists are similar, and both generally require a doctorate in psychology.

Profiling Criminals

    If the police are trying to figure out who the murderer is and they want a psychologist to sketch a profile of the killer's most likely characteristics, then they would employ a criminal psychologist. According to the website, John E. Douglas, a top criminal profiler, sketches a criminal profile by using, "a mix of psychology, pattern recognition and inductive reasoning to predict a suspect's "age, background, personality, and other identifying characteristics." These profiles are used by law enforcement to quickly narrow down their pool of suspects.


    Criminal psychologists are expert data-miners. The key to their success is identifying patterns in large data sets. By examining closed cases on serial killers, including the location of the crime, the method of murder, the gender of the victim, the number of victims and psychological test results when available, for example, researchers are able to identify common demographic and psychological factors. Many researchers work for universities or are directly employed by the FBI.

Civil Cases

    If you are looking for someone to use their expert psychological knowledge to evaluate civil litigants, hire a forensic psychologist. Within this realm, a forensic psychologist evaluates the psychological portion of a victim's civil claim. She may, for example, evaluate the person's competency to stand trial, offer an opinion as to the litigant's emotional pain and suffering or look for "sneaky suicides," which are fatal accidents, that are really suicides staged to look like an accident, so relatives can collect insurance money.

Criminal Psychological Evaluations

    When most people think of a forensic psychologist, they think of a criminal defendant completing a court-ordered psychological evaluation, and they would be correct. Forensic psychologists typically visit a defendant in a probation office, jail or prison, administer a battery of psychological tests, interview the defendant and write an evaluation for the courts. This evaluation would typically include any applicable mental health and substance abuse diagnoses, an assessment of a defendant's competency to stand trial, an assessment of his risk to the community and his amenability for treatment.

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