Criminal Behavior Analysis Education and Training Programs
Criminal behavior analysts study the patterns of behavior and the characteristic psychology of perpetrators of extremely violent or repetitive crimes to help arrest them and prevent future crimes. Earning a master's or doctorate degree in forensic psychology is commonly required for advanced careers in this competitive field.
Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology is an interdisciplinary science involving the study of the criminal justice system and psychology, as well as a study of deviant behavior commonly employed by criminal behavior analysts. Undergraduate forensic psychology students learn to analyze the reasons for a variety of crimes and are trained to develop programs to prevent future crimes. To supplement their training in behavior analysis some programs offer internship opportunities with organizations like law enforcement agencies, probation offices and juvenile assessment centers.
Common undergraduate degree programs in this area include the Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology and Bachelor of Criminal Justice in Forensic Psychology programs. Since undergraduate programs in forensic psychology are relatively rare, aspiring criminal behavior analysts may also consider a major in psychology, forensic science, criminology or criminal justice.
Program Course Work
Bachelor's forensic psychology students cover areas like the intersection of psychology and forensics, traditional theories of psychology and statistical analysis. Common courses in these programs include:
- Abnormal psychology
- Social psychology
- Deviant behavior
- Juvenile delinquency
- Research methods
- Criminal behavior psychology
- Psychology and law
Popular Career Options
While research positions and jobs with federal crime fighting agencies and legal firms require postgraduate qualifications, bachelor's degree holders can find related entry-level positions like:
- Probation officer
- Parole officer
- Local law enforcement officer
- Victim advocate
Graduates opting for careers in law enforcement and corrections usually receive job specific training after being hired. Corrections officers may improve their chances for advancement by pursuing a master's degree in criminal justice, psychology or social work.
For graduates planning to research criminal behavior or aid law enforcement agencies as crime profilers or legal consultants, it could be beneficial to choose a postgraduate forensic psychology program that focuses on the actual practice of clinical psychology, particularly within forensic populations, as opposed to one with a more general focus on the intersection between psychology and law.
Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
Students enrolled in a Masters of Arts (M.A.) program in Forensic Psychology study theories on the motivating reasons underlying deviant behavior and how to distinguish between various types of criminal behavior. They evaluate the efficacy of investigative and assessment techniques and study the weaknesses and strengths of the adversarial court system. They learn to analyze issues within the justice system using the theories and methodologies of social psychology, neuropsychology, abnormal psychology and developmental psychology.
Most programs require students to complete extensive internships or clinical practicums after finishing prerequisites. This requirement can be completed in a variety of institutions like prisons, hospitals, mental health institutions and law enforcement agencies depending on the student's area of focus. During fieldwork, students make observations, interview patients and record case histories.
Undergraduate courses on research methods, statistics, experimental psychology and abnormal psychology are considered extremely useful as preparation for postgraduate programs in forensic psychology regardless of the student's undergraduate major. In addition, previous research experience, recommendation letters, a well-written statement of purpose and a successful candidate's interview are considered important for successful applicants.
Program Course Work
Coursework in forensic psychology master's programs tends to be interdisciplinary. The curriculum for a master's degree program covers areas like counseling, assessment and theories of psychology. Master's students may take courses with titles like:
- Research methods
- Developmental psychopathology
- Adult psychopathology
- Psychology of criminal behavior
- Clinical assessment
Some of the professions that utilize different advanced aspects of criminal behavior analysis are:
- FBI behavioral analyst
- Behavior analysis researcher
- Trial consultant
- Police psychologist
Doctoral Degrees in Forensic Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs with a focus on forensic psychology train students to become clinical psychologists. Courses and internships are designed to emphasize forensic psychology through academic and experimental research. Doctoral students get experience in the clinical practice of psychology through internships or clinical practicums in forensic settings like correctional facilities and law clinics, which can last up to a year.
Some clinical psychology programs offer minors in forensic psychology, which require completion of a sequence of elective courses. Other programs offer combined clinical psychology and law doctoral programs resulting in a combined Ph.D./J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree.
Doctoral degree candidates can enter doctoral programs in forensic psychology with either a bachelor's or master's degree in subjects like psychology, forensic psychology, criminology or related fields. Master's degree holders typically complete many of the prerequisites taken in the first two years of a doctoral program.
Program Course Work
Clinical psychology doctoral programs require students to complete extensive practical training in research and clinical areas in addition to taking seminar style courses. Outside the clinic and the lab, students take courses in areas that include:
- Forensic evaluation
- Ethics and legality in psychology
- Research design and statistical analysis of data
- History of psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Police psychology
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that psychologists will experience 22% employment growth between the years 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). The American Psychological Association (APA) reported in 2009 that forensic psychology would grow quickly in the coming years because it was a relatively young field with increasing applications within the legal system (www.apa.org). According to the BLS, psychologists in general earn a median annual salary of $67,650 as of May 2012.
Doctoral students can increase their knowledge in behavior analysis by getting a post-doctorate certificate in a specific sub-specialty of forensic psychology like counseling and psychotherapy, psychological assessment or research. Students can also apply for postdoctoral fellowships at various mental health institutions, hospitals and medical schools.
The FBI offers volunteer internship positions at the Behavioral Science Unit to students of criminology, forensic science, psychology and related sciences interested in gaining real world experience analyzing violent crimes, terrorism and related areas.
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