I am a Forensic Psychologist, registered in both the UK and Australia. I was one of a very small number of civilians to be accredited as a Behavioural Investigative Advisor by the UK police. Behavioural Investigative Advisors were traditionally known as “offender profilers”. I have provided input into police cases on the investigative side of things, rather than the evidential side. This mainly involves providing reports on known and unknown offenders, advising on investigative and interview strategies, and trying to make sense of what was going on in a particular case and why.
Over the years, many students and trainees have asked me “How can I become an offender profiler?”. I am always reminded of what I was told when I asked the same question of a senior police officer who was giving a talk to us students. This fine gent said “Specialise in something, get known for it, and wait to be asked”. This was sound advice and it did work for me. I completed a PhD on the course and nature of stalking behaviour and became a specialist in cases of stalking. Over time, I extended my expertise into more areas, including sexual offending in its various forms, family violence, cybercrime, risk and threat assessment, campus safety, Islamophobia, racial and religious discrimination, suicide in prisons, celebrity worship, psychopathy, repeat criminal victimisation, policing, legislative change, suicide in Aboriginal populations, drug dependent offenders, and offenders with mental health challenges.
My pathway to becoming a behavioural advisor and Forensic Psychologist was a long and expensive one. I completed a BSc in psychology and then self funded my PhD. I trained for several years as a General Psychologist and then as a Forensic Psychologist. I completed numerous additional training courses, covering a variety of topics from how to keep good clinical records to workshops run by FBI profilers. I often took on extra work during this journey, including working behind bars in pubs and cleaning.
As a behavioural advisor, I have provided advice in active police cases and cold cases, and then over time I began to provide advice in non police cases. Over the past 23 years I have advised a range of individuals and organisations in a private capacity, including insurance companies, large corporations, immigration agencies, security personnel, and public figures.
I have conducted assessments and provided approximately 250 expert witness reports for the Justice System in the UK and in Australia. These assessments and reports have most often focussed on family dynamics, risk assessment, substance abuse, mental illness, child welfare, child custody, stalking, family violence, sexual offending, and violent offending.
For much of my working life I also been employed by universities as a research and teaching focussed academic. At the University of Leicester I was course director of the MSc in Forensic Psychology, teaching post-graduate psychologists seeking a career in the field the foundations of the subject. I was an active researcher for many years, publishing five books and more than 80 papers in refereed scientific journals. Much of my research has adopted an applied, interventionist angle. This has meant that my work has had an extensive and pragmatic real-world impact on clinical practice, the criminal justice system and broader society. I have provided advice to governments who are who are seeking to develop legislation relating to stalking, harassment, bullying, family violence and non-fatal strangulation. I am also a therapist.
I have created and facilitated training ranging from one-hour sessions to full weeks. Attendee groups have included security personnel, human resources professionals, line managers, employee support teams, police officers, government policy advisors, social workers, lawyers, magistrates, academics, medics and charity and non-governmental organisation professionals. I provide three main types of services for corporations, namely (i) risk and threat assessment and associated case management advice, (ii) training and (iii) policy and information guides.
Please don’t think I am showing off! The point of this article is to illustrate the long journey that is necessary to become an “offender profiler”. And even then, there is no such job! You will not see any “offender profilers wanted” advertisements. Behavioural investigative advisors usually provide advice on a consultancy basis or else come from within police forces. Most of us provide behavioural advice in a range of settings. These include but are not limited to: providing input into employee assistance programmes, advising on corporate recruitment, analysing workplace disputes, assessing and managing stalking and family violence cases, advising in disputes about financial issues, developing strategies for handling negative reviews of companies, assessing false claims, providing input into cases of harassment via social media, and assessing and managing threats. Behaviour advisors do not have lives like those portrayed in the media. They don’t run around the country stalked by serial killers. Instead, we are usually found sat at our desks surrounded by huge piles of paper.
Modern profiling has at its heart a large and growing body of science. It most certainly does not rely on intuition. Rather, it is directly based on a body of knowledge about the characteristics of people's behaviour and also to some degree on the nature of the people themselves. It involves examining a broad range of information that we know about previous behaviour and then looking at characteristics of the case to determine what type of individual might actually engage in that type of behaviour. Very few people spend time researching and learning and thinking about the motivations of offenders. Those who do are well placed to talk about what people actually do when engaging in crimes and other forms of unwanted behaviour, and why.
If you are looking to employ the services of a behavioural advisor, make sure that they really are trained in what they do. “Behavioural advisor” and similar titles are not protected titles, meaning that anyone can call themselves a behavioural advisor or profiler or similar. Ask about the person’s qualifications. For example, is the person a fully registered psychologist or psychiatrist? Have they completed specialised training? Also ask about their general input into the field. Have they published peer reviewed papers in scientific journals? Have they trained and taught other professionals? Are they recognised by their peers as a genuine behavioural advisor? Also ask about their levels of engagement with people who carry out crimes and other anti social acts. For example, have they actually met and worked with offenders in a professional capacity?
In a nutshell, becoming a behavioural advisor is not an easy path, and it requires a great deal of time and effort in a range of different areas. It requires knowledge and expertise in both clinical and academic settings. The training is lengthy and rigorous and continual professional development is essential. The work is, however, varied and rewarding. I wouldn’t do anything else.
Dr.Lorraine Sheridan PhD - Forensic Psychologist - Partner in Defuse®