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What is Investigative Psychology? An account by an MSc Investigative Psychology Student.
What is Investigative Psychology?!
In a nutshell Investigative Psychology is a new area of applied psychology which is concerned with applying psychological principals and the insights gained from psychological research to every aspect of a criminal investigation. If you are interested in pursuing this fascinating area of study at University or for your career then the above explanation is not likely to be sufficient to furnish you with all the necessary facts to make an informed decision. Finding good information about Investigative Psychology on the internet is not easy; I discovered this for myself when I began my own research after deciding I wanted to apply for an MSc in Investigative Psychology. I am therefore writing this article to bring together all the relevant information that I wish I had been able to access years ago. I hope that you find it helpful and informative.
Investigative Psychology is concerned with criminal investigations
So what exactly do Investigative Psychologists do?
Investigative Psychologists can work either primarily as researchers and lecturers through affiliations with Universities. The two most notable institutions for Investigative Psychology are the University of Liverpool and the University of Huddersfield. Such a position usually involves teaching students, supervising projects while conducting independent research and publishing findings in relevant journals.
Alternatively some Investigative Psychologists combine academic work with applied work 'in the field'. This can include working with the police in areas such as: behavioural profiling, crime linkage, geographical profiling, advising on interviewing techniques, suspect prioritisation and psychological autopsy to name but a few!
As the field matures further work is being done into other areas of interest including terrorism, child protection, missing persons, police decision making and the management of critical and major incidents.
There are many suprising areas that Investigative Psychology can tap into and there is plenty of opportunity for further growth which makes this an exciting opportunity.
What is criminal profiling?
When most people think of a criminal profiler they picture Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs or perhaps Robbie Coltraine in Cracker. Unfortunately this is somewhat of a myth which has been perpetuated by the media.
Although Investigative Psychologists do engage in profiling, in reality it is not how you see it in the movies.
Popular culture portrays the profiler as an independent, solitary (but often flawed) genius who has some mysterious gift for 'getting into the mind' of the killer and using his or her innate skills to correctly deduct the shocking truth and solve the crime.
The process of profiling has historically been different depending on which country it is occurring in. The very popular Silence of the Lambs was concerned with a female profiler from the FBI training ground Quantico in Virginia. It is true that there are criminal profilers training at Quantico and their approach is to use the experience and knoledge gained through work as a detective to try to understand a crime. The problem with such an approach was first discussed by a British Psychologist called David Canter. He proposed that such methods of profiling were not founded in proper Scientific empirical research and relied to much on each detectives individual experiences and interpretations. As such Canter argued that profiling should be founded in Science and this gave birth to behavioural profiling as practised in the UK and many other Countries around the world.
So you want to be an Investigative Psychologist?
It can seem pretty overwhelming trying to decide what you want to do for a future career, but if you are interested in Investigtive Psychology then there is a direct path you need to follow.
First you will need to get an undergradute deree in Psychology, make sure that it is BPS (British Psychological Society) accredited, as you will need their Graduate Basis for Registration to get onto a lot of MSc courses. You can check whether your course is accredited by checking the BPS website or emailing your head of department.
You will need to achieve a high 2:1 at least to get accepted onto most good MSc programmes so you will need to work hard and aim high particularly in your dissertation. If you can study an area related to Forensics or Criminology that would be a benefit.
Next step is to apply for an MSc in Investigative Psychology. There aren't many of these courses available in the UK so you may have to be prepared to move for your studies. The University of Liverpool has an MSc in Investigative and Forensic Psycholoy which is remarkable for being the only accredited course at a Russel Group University in the UK. It is a well established, very well respected course which is taught by some of the top academics in the field. Another option is the MSc in Investigative Psychology held at Huddersfield University, this course is also taught by some top names in Investigative Psychology including the man regarded as it's founder Prof David Canter (formerly of The University of Liverpool). There is also a course in Investigative and Forensic Psychology held at London South Bank University.
The course fees vary from around £4,000 to £7,000 but it is important to remember that you get what you pay for in terms of contact time with the staff and amount of tuition received.
Something important to bear in mind is that Investigative psychology is a distinct discipline and not the same as Forensic Psychology. If you want to keep your options open it might be worthwhile doing a course which combines both elements, and offers accredition towards becoming a chartered forensic psychologist. The University of Liverpool and Huddersfield both offer courses accredited for forensic psychology.