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Differences between Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology

Differences between Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology

May 12, 2024

With the regrettable increase in recent years of criminal acts in general, and of terrorist acts in particular, scenarios such as the courts of justice or social reintegration centers are experiencing a real boom due to the need to cushion the impact that violence brings.

Likewise, criminal acts also involve processes such as mediation and attention to victims, as a framework of action of increasing relevance for the psychologist.

Psychology around criminal acts: what is it?

Nowadays, Psychology has become a fundamental discipline in the administration of justice . Their direct or indirect intervention in criminal proceedings is essential in the care and treatment of crime or interpersonal and gender violence, as well as other conflicts of personal rights.

This need for specialization translates into a growing demand for forensic and criminal psychologists .

Differentiating between Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology

But to talk about Criminal psychology and of Forensic psychology It is necessary to clarify what are the differences between these two 'disciplines' (or subdisciplines) of action. There is great confusion about their similarities and differences, so terms are often confused and it is not uncommon for there to be people who consider it to be a single discipline .

Today we will know what their differences between forensic psychology and criminal psychology are, as well as discovering their functions and areas of intervention.

General concepts

In order to understand the nature of each discipline, it is necessary to know some general concepts that will allow us to better understand what they are.


The psychology it's a branch of science that study psychic phenomena and operations . It is, in other words, the scientific study of human behavior and experience, of how human beings (and even animals) think, feel, experience, learn and do with the objective of adapting to the environment that surrounds them.


From Latin forensic alluding to forum , refers to the place where an oral trial takes place. This term usually causes a lot of confusion and commotion since it is usually associated immediately with the Thanatology. However, when a discipline is added to this term, simply makes reference to that it contributes to the administration of justice or is related to it.


It is a concept widely used in law. It refers to the sciences that study the legal system and what is related to the laws.

What does each one do?

We have seen an approximate definition of each of these areas, but, What role does each of them play?

Forensic psychology: concept and scope of action

The Forensic psychology it is that part of psychology that develops within the specific legal scope and / or in its dependent organs, characterized by own techniques that make it an auxiliary science in this field.

Forensic Psychology addresses the behavior and mental processes that need to be explained or determined during an oral trial , because the main interest of this branch of psychology is to help the procurement of justice. In addition, the forensic psychology has the peculiarity of being interested in the study of the victim to determine the psychic consequences that he suffers after the crime.

What is the job of a forensic psychologist?

We can also understand forensic psychology as that branch of applied psychology related to the collection, analysis and presentation of psychological evidence for judicial purposes . Therefore, it is essential for the forensic psychologist to understand criminal law in the jurisdiction that corresponds to it, in order to carry out legal evaluations and interact appropriately with judges and lawyers.

Another important aspect of the forensic psychologist is that must have the ability to testify before a court about the expertise he has performed (Suppose, determine the mental state of the defendant at the time of carrying out the crime). Generally, their job is more to clarify legal than psychological issues. Among the most important tasks that the forensic psychologist is responsible for are: issuing opinions on issues in their area, evaluating and treating any justice administration personnel involved in the process, analyzing all those problems of a psychological nature or emotional and to give pertinent recommendations as regards responsibility, mental health and safety of the subject.

Criminal psychology: concept and scope of action

The Criminal psychology or criminological he takes care of study the behavior and mental processes of the individual who has committed a crime . Criminal Psychology, therefore, is responsible for studying the developments and processes of psychological nature involved in the ideation and perpetration of criminal acts.

Study the whys and how criminal behavior manifests itself distinctly from other behaviors, addressing the scientific observation of criminal behavior types, types of offenders and delinquency as a psychosocial phenomenon.

What is the work of a criminal psychologist?

Criminal Psychology provides the theoretical and practical basis to facilitate the work of criminal psychologists. These elaborate the psychodiagnosis with the intention of predicting a prognosis and considering an adequate treatment by studying the personality of the criminal. Likewise, criminological psychology integrates the therapeutic work aimed at modifying the antisocial behavior of the subject.

This branch, contrary to what one might think, is not exclusively clinical but rather It also extends to studies on criminality and about the psychological factors that influence it.

Among the many tasks that a criminal psychologist can perform, we can cite the following: conducting criminal personality studies aimed at clarifying the endogenous and exogenous psychological factors that led to criminal behavior, helping the criminologist to establish the danger of a criminal subject, criminal profiling in research agencies, offering psychotherapeutic treatment to inmates, etc.


Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology play essential roles in law enforcement, the judicial system and criminology. However, the first one is used mainly to determine the psychological reasons for which a crime is committed and the forensic one analyzes the effect of the crime on the victims and the mental condition of the perpetrator.

Similarities and differences

It is worth to make a comparison table to better understand the similarities and differences between each one in a synthetic way.

Bibliographic references:

  • Mendoza Beivide, A.P. "Psychiatry for criminologists and criminology for psychiatrists" Editorial Trillas. Mexico. 2014
  • Stingo, N.R. "Dictionary of psychiatry and forensic psychology" Editorial Polemos. Argentina. First edition. 2006


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