In several countries around the world, psychology is now among the top three most favoured subjects studied at university. Psychology is a highly significant aspect of life. Therefore, those that graduate with a psychology degree have an endless and diverse spectrum of jobs to choose from. Psychology graduates can enter almost every job considering how most roles utilise skills that are often learned through a psychology degree.
A career that some find particularly interesting is forensic/criminal psychology. It covers a broad and interesting range of topics. Two top psychologists defined forensic psychology as ‘that branch of applied psychology which is concerned with the collection, examination and presentation of evidence for judicial purposes’ (Gudjonsson and Haward 1998, p. 1). Crime analysis is one field of work which uses criminal psychological methods. Crime analysts are generally employed by the police in order to analyse crime data to help the police carry out their roles. Offender profiling is the inferring of an offender’s characteristics from his or her crime scene behaviour. For example, a profiler might try to infer the age or gender of the offender, and can even extrapolate if the victim knew the criminal through the way the crime happened. Profilers are usually brought in if there has been a serious crime such as murder or rape, and the offenders identity is unknown. Researching methods such as interviewing previously caught murderers and rapists has allowed police and psychologists to confirm that for these types of criminals, the marauder pattern of offending is more common, unlike the pattern for lesser crimes which is less obvious. The police can also use the psychologists in order to gain advice on how to interview particular types of witnesses or suspects. This role may be viewed as popular due to the growth in films and television shows that cast an unrealistic light onto forensic psychology. “While the TV world of forensic science provides instant gratification, the real world is tedious and slow” (Hempel, 2003, p. 14). This, however, is just one of the many branches of forensic psychology, as it is split into five subspecialties: police psychology, psychology of crime and delinquency, victimology and victim services, psychology applied to the courts, and psychology applied to corrections. These subspecialties will use interchangeable skills and processes, and graduates in these jobs may take on roles from each individual sector.
Another role is working alongside offenders that are incarcerated, to rehabilitate them and study them from behind bars. Those that choose this job role will most often work in prisons or rehabilitation centres, working alongside other professionals involved in the judicial and penal system. They will work with prisoners and offenders, studying their behaviours, assessing them and providing the correct treatment. This job can be challenging as graduates would be working in situations with prisoners and ex-offenders who may not want to be helped. They can be violent and aggressive, resulting in possible personal risk. Graduates will need to be resilient and show strength in these tough situations.
Working environments vary, for example those that choose to work in prisons will have to adapt to noise and lock up procedures, whereas institutions impose cameras observation and entry searches, as can other forensic environments. Jobs are available across the United Kingdom, and graduates may work in just one location or across a variety of sites, including prisons, secure hospitals, rehabilitation centres and police stations.
When working with offenders, graduates would utilise everything they studied in their degrees, as their role would be to assess and rehabilitate offenders. They would need to research projects to evaluate situations affecting these prisoners, such as the effectiveness of anger management and the impact of bullying in prisons. They would carry out one-to-one assessments, assessing the risk of re-offending, suicide and other self harm behaviour. There has been lots of research conducted on the mental health of inmates, assessed by countless professionals. Researchers reported high levels of psychological distress that most professionals find concerning. Research conducted by Jessica Woodhams found that over six per cent of prisoners reported levels suggestive of clinical anxiety and depression. Statistics suggest that suicide rates are high in prisons, and are caused by stress, bullying amongst inmates and sometimes the realisation and remorse of the consequences of their actions. Graduates would have to observe offenders closely, watching for signs of affliction and suicidal thoughts. This requires deep observation and an empathetic yet vigilant approach.
A key role of this job is developing and implementing appropriate offender treatment and rehabilitation programmes, such as treatments for drug and alcohol addiction, social and cognitive skills training and anger management. The skills to complete these jobs are often learned through a psychology degree, as this degree requires deep analysis, critical thinking and personal evaluation. Graduates are taught to think beyond the box, getting to the very root of a problem to fix it. They also gather skills like communication and leadership, as the psychology course involves attentive group work.
Leadership is a significant quality to have in this job as some roles require graduates to deliver training to other staff, and working alongside them to improve the system that is in place for offenders. Graduates would design and deliver the training to support forensic staff in areas such as stress management, or training on how to cope with understanding bullying and techniques for crisis/hostage negotiation. Situations like these require a critically thought out plan, implemented with a calm and persuasive mannerism. Understanding the situations and using empathy to befriend the offender and coax them into giving up will militate the offenders chance of success.
Like with most psychology jobs, the aim is to help and rehabilitate patients. A willingness to listen and work with the offenders to create a positive outcome is a necessity. Communication and listening skills are required in order to establish a relationship with the offender community and build trust. Working closely with offenders can result in them realising the impact of their offence, and showing remorse for their actions. Graduates must show a non-discriminatory and non-judgemental approach, with the resilience and capacity to cope with an element of personal risk.
The nature of punishment has changed over time, in all cultures, and will continue to do so for the rest of time. In the eleventh century, if a murder was committed then the offender would have to pay the victims family a financial sum. The law enforcers preferred this way as opposed to a physical punishment, which was kept for repeat offenders. In the sixteenth century, crime skyrocketed as was reported to be like entertainment, and so punishments were harsher and more violent. They would brand rapists and cut limbs off of thieves, and some people were hung, drawn and quartered. Criminals were tied to a horse and paraded round the village, often dragged on their backs. Punishment was very public because people greatly believed in retribution. Offenders would be publicly shamed, alongside their families, to deter other criminals. During the industrial revolution, crime figures increased dramatically for many reasons. There was a tremendous growth in the population, and so with less jobs and more mouths to feed, people began to struggle greatly. Many people found themselves without jobs and homes, and more jobs were being given to children as they had less rights and wouldn’t have to be paid as much as an adult. With people barely surviving, they turned to crime. Many would have to steal or they would starve, but some criminals would seek havoc for the pleasure of it. It was easier to commit murder in the over populated urban cities as a few missing lower class people would go unnoticed. Large crowds made it easier to pick pocket and thieve from stalls. Most people turned to drink for comfort, and so many lower class citizens lay drunk in the streets, causing disruptions. With an enormous increase in crime, the punishments had to be more effective and severe. The most common punishment was hanging in public, which was a capital punishment. Executions commenced in public as it was more deemed more successful in deterring other criminals. It was also a form of entertainment for the upper class, which is now seen as very unethical.
Punishment wasn’t about helping to rehabilitate offenders as they were more concerned with stopping others from also committing a crime. A problem with these punishing methods was all crimes received the same punishment. Ordinarily this would be expected, but the reason for the crimes was not taken into consideration. For example, if somebody stole a loaf of bread to feed their family, they would receive then same sentence as someone who stole for the thrill of it, or to fuel their drug habit. The system meant everything was equal, but not fair. With the progression in punishments growing over the years, psychology was developing at the same speed. It became more popular as psychology meant thinking more about people in an ethical way- being viewed as humans that needed help rather than just criminals that needed to be punished. In the united kingdom, rehabilitation of offenders became popular during the 1950s, and in the 1990s psychologists started thinking more about the reformation of prisoners. This involved helping offenders consider their past behaviour and thinking about their future behaviour to become law-abiding citizens, which is still the main goal in rehabilitation programmes today.
Qualifying to become a forensic psychologist is complicated and stressful, but the end result reaps rewards as this profession requires standards of significant importance. An undergraduate psychology degree and/or the equivalent GBR recognition is required, followed by a postgraduate qualification in forensic psychology, providing the necessary knowledge and skills. Graduates can expect to spend 320 days conducting interventions, assessments and evaluations with clients, applied research, supporting and advising other professionals and training. Although these years of gruelling work and experience may be difficult, they certainly outweigh the cost and time consumed in doing so. An average Bachelors degree costs £9,250, and an average Masters degree costs £6,842, totalling to a sum of £16,092. Trainee forensic psychologists working for HM Prison Service (HMPS) can be paid a starting salary of between £27,021 and £34,461. Fully-qualified, registered psychologists within HMPS earn between £37,218 and £46,846, while senior registered psychologists can earn £41,586 to £53,952. Salaries for forensic psychologists within the NHS are at a similar level. Those in training earn £31,365 to £37,890, while fully-qualified psychologists earn between £38,890 and £44,503. With higher levels of experience, salaries of more than £51,668 can be achieved. Full-time and part-time working options are available, and if graduates focus on the consultancy side of the role, it might be possible to become self-employed or carry out freelance work. This is appealing to most people who have a family and other responsibilities as they can fit their job to suit them, and the starting salary is almost double that of the course costs. Graduates would be able to pay their student loans earlier and still have money to live a more than comfortable lifestyle.
If the money aspect of the job is not what motivates graduates, then the notion of helping those in need certainly would. Majority of people wish they could undertake the task to aid a human being with poor health or hardship, as humans are distressed in seeing another’s torment (Keltner, 2004). Psychology is about studying the human mind in order to understand the actions and behaviour of others. Since the human brain is so phenomenal, there will always be more to discover and think critically about. The evolution of humans is remarkable, and it is not yet finished. As time goes on, many aspects of life will change, but there will always be an exigency for psychology.
- Gudjonsson, G. H., & Haward, L. R. (1998). Forensic psychology: A guide to practice.
- Keltner, D. (2004, March 1). The Compassionate Instinct. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct