Psychology is the study of human mental processes. Psychologists observe human behavior and the ways in which humans as well as animals relate not only to each other but to the environment. Forensic psychologists work in the legal and criminal justice system, where they help all people involved in a court case understand the psychological findings or implications in a particular case.
Educaiton and Licensing
Although a psychologist can practice in some states with a master’s degree, most clinical, counseling or research psychologists need a doctorate. A forensic psychologist could have a specialty in any of these areas or be a school, social or industrial-organization psychologist. In addition to course work, most psychologists must complete supervised clinical experience, an internship or a residency program. Most states require a license or certification. Clinical and counseling psychologists need not only a doctorate but an internship and one or two years of professional experience and must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology to become licensed.
Forensic psychologists need additional training over and above the usual training in psychology. A forensic psychologist must be knowledgeable of legal theory, procedures and law as well as the way those issues intersect with clinical issues, practice and ethics. She must know how to conduct a forensic examination, what legal doctrines are relevant for mental health evaluations, how clinical assessment differs from forensic assessment and what specialized assessment tools or instruments are used in forensic psychology.
The Forensic Interview
Just as psychologists perform a variety of functions in clinical practice, forensic psychologists are responsible for various duties within the legal system. One important skill is the ability to conduct a forensic interview. In clinical psychology, the psychologist relies on the patient’s self-report and is focused on helping the person deal with personal problems or emotional difficulties. The forensic interview is related to issues surrounding the alleged crime. A forensic psychologist must confirm the patient’s self-report with other sources and may need to take an adversarial role to elicit information needed in court.
A forensic psychologist may act as an expert witness for either the defense or the prosecution. She might also present the results of her assessment as well as data from other sources and explain how the assessment is relevant to the criminal or civil matter at hand. She might determine whether an individual is competent to stand trial or discuss related issues such as drug dependence, battered woman syndrome, domestic violence or sexual disorders. In a civil case, the forensic psychologist might address issues such as the appropriate choice in a child custody dispute, mental disability or whether someone should be committed to an institution.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 19-3039 Psychologists, All Other
- American Psychology-Law Society: Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists
- American Psychology-Law Society: Education and Training Guidelines for Forensic Psychology
- American Board of Forensic Psychology: Forensic Psychology
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