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What is Investigative Psychology?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Investigative psychology is the application of the principles of psychology within the criminal justice system. Practice of this sub-discipline of criminal or forensic psychology is for the purpose of accomplishing tasks such as criminal investigation, offender profiling, psychological analysis of criminal suspects and substance-abuse treatment for suspects and witnesses in criminal cases. Other tasks within a legal system that are accomplished through the practice of investigative psychology include analyzing evidence and testimonies, making recommendations for sentencing and predicting patterns of violence.

A person who practices investigative psychology might be a clinical psychologist, a child psychologist, substance abuse counselor, therapists or even a neurologist who lends his or her knowledge to law enforcement officers working on a particular case. Investigative psychology provides a scientific method of accomplishing tasks such as profiling criminal offenders, analyzing evidence and testimonies and predicting the patterns of violence of an offender for the express purpose of bringing offenders to justice as quickly as possible. The term "investigative psychology," in most regions, has come to encompass any and all contributions that a psychologist or social scientist makes to legal investigations and cases.

Investigators and law enforcement officers might seek out the services of investigative psychologists when attempting to solve criminal cases such as those involving serial murder, acts of terrorism, stalking, arson and kidnapping. Offender profiling in criminal investigations is a significant and often vital step to bringing the guilty party to justice, because a criminal's mental profile reveals valuable information about him or her. For example, because of investigative psychology, the investigators generally have a much clearer view of the offender's reasoning, which can prove helpful in predicting the type of victims he or she seeks out, the geographic location of premeditated offenses and any behaviors that serve as "signature" marks to identify the work of the offender. This type of information made available through the practice of investigative psychology has also proved to be successful in halting the criminal activities of serial offenders.

There are some significant differences between investigative psychology and other forms of psychology. Investigative psychologists, unlike private counselors and therapists, almost always work with people who did not seek out help of their own free will and who might be very resistant to being psychoanalyzed. Suspects might have to be evaluated to determine whether they are mentally sound or were mentally sound at the time they committed a crime. The identification of false allegations, false confessions or false testimonies of eyewitnesses also can be made possible through the practice of investigative psychology.

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