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

Likewise, criminal acts also involve processes such as mediation and victim care, as a framework for action of growing relevance for the psychologist.

Psychology around criminal acts: what is it?

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

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 Forensic Psychology it is necessary to clarify what the differences are between these two ‘disciplines’ (or subdisciplines) of acting. There is a great deal of confusion about their similarities and differences, so terms are often confused and it is not uncommon for people to consider that they are a single discipline .

Today we are going to know what the differences are between forensic psychology and criminal psychology, as well as discover 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 consist of.


Psychology is a branch of science that studies psychic phenomena and operations . It is, in other words, the scientific study of human behaviour and experience, of how human beings (and even animals) think, feel, experience, learn and do in order to adapt to their environment.


From the Latin forensic referring to forum , it refers to the place where an oral trial is held. This term usually causes a lot of confusion and commotion as it is immediately associated with thanatology . However, when a discipline is added to this term, it simply refers to the fact that it contributes to the administration of justice or is related to it.


It’s a concept widely used in law. It refers to the sciences that study the legal system and that related to the law.

What does each one do?

We have seen a rough definition of each of these areas, but what role does each of them play?

Forensic psychology: concept and scope of action

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

Forensic psychology deals with the behaviour and mental processes that need to be explained or determined during an oral trial , since the main interest of this branch of psychology is to help in the pursuit of justice. Furthermore, forensic psychology is interested in the study of the victim in order to determine the psychological consequences that he or she suffers after the crime.

What is the work 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 indispensable for the forensic psychologist to understand the criminal law in the jurisdiction that corresponds to him/her, 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 in court about the expertise he or she has performed (let’s say, determine the mental state of the defendant at the time of the crime). Generally, his work consists more of clarifying legal issues than psychological ones. Among the most important tasks that the forensic psychologist is in charge of are: to issue opinions on issues in his area, to evaluate and treat any justice administration personnel involved in the process, to analyze all those problems of a psychological or emotional nature and to give pertinent recommendations regarding the responsibility, mental health and safety of the subject.

Criminal psychology: concept and scope of action

The Criminal Psychology or criminology is responsible for studying the behaviour and mental processes of the individual who has committed a crime . Criminal psychology, therefore, is in charge of studying the developments and processes of a psychological nature that intervene in the ideation and perpetration of criminal acts.

It studies the whys and how criminal behaviour manifests itself distinctly from other behaviours, addressing the scientific observation of criminal behavioural types, types of offenders and crime as a psychosocial phenomenon.

What is the work of a criminal psychologist?

Criminal Psychology provides the theoretical and practical basis to facilitate the task of criminal psychologists. They elaborate the psychodiagnosis with the intention of foreseeing a prognosis and considering an adequate treatment through the study of the criminal’s personality. Likewise, Criminal Psychology integrates the therapeutic work aimed at modifying the subject’s antisocial behaviour.

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

Among the multiple tasks that a criminal psychologist can perform, we can mention the following: conducting studies of the criminal personality whose purpose is to clarify the endogenous and exogenous psychological factors that led to criminal behavior, helping the criminologist to establish the dangerousness of a subject, criminal profiling in investigation agencies, offering psychotherapeutic treatment to inmates, etc.


Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology play indispensable roles in law enforcement, the judicial system and criminology. However, the former is mainly used to determine the psychological reasons for committing a crime and forensic psychology analyses the effect of the crime on the victims and the mental condition of the offender.

Similarities and differences

It is worth making 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