What is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic Psychologists typically work with and in the legal system. As well as having a suitable qualification in Psychology—typically at postgraduate level—they also have a good understanding of the legal system of the country in which they reside, especially with respect to expert witness testimony and a range of areas of expertise (which can include areas such as child custody, and whether or not someone is competent to stand trial).To practise as a Forensic Psychologist in the UK, Psychologists must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) and hold at least a recognised master’s qualification as well as a recognised bachelor’s qualification.
How do Forensic Psychologists help people and society?
Forensic Psychologists are able to explain often very complex psychological concepts in language that judges, juries, and legal professionals can understand, and they work with a highly specific patient demographic, composed largely of people who have been accused of a crime. They may be appointed to work with defendants to determine their state of mind—both in terms of assessing whether they are able to stand trial as a competent adult or if they should be considered insane, which will have a great bearing on how the case against them is pursued, and the sort of sentence they receive. For example, if they are considered incompetent to stand trial because of an underlying mental illness that is so severe that they are thought not to understand the implications of what they have done, the court may have the right to detain them indefinitely in a psychiatric institution, until they are considered sufficiently well (and low risk) to stand trial or to be released.
Forensic Psychologists may also explore issues of risk and whether or not an individual found guilty is likely to reoffend. This is likely to have an impact on the sentencing decision made by the judge. For example, in the case of someone convicted of a serious crime such as sexual assault or assault and battery, the Psychologist’s considered opinion as to their likelihood of reoffending is likely to influence how long they are sentenced for, and if or when they can apply for bail.
Forensic Psychologists can also work with law enforcement; for example, by providing the police with criminal profiles, by helping the authorities to deal with the traumatic aftermath of crime, and in training police officers.
Other Forensic Psychologists are involved in academic research and explore issues such as why particular types of people tend to be associated with particular sorts of crime. Because of the nature of their work, their research is often carried out with prison populations.
How is Forensic Psychology used as a treatment?
Forensic Psychologists also provide treatment to individuals who are seen to need their services when they are undergoing the legal process. This might include interventions for people who need to undergo treatment in order to be considered legally competent, for individuals who have been diagnosed as being insane in the course of a lawsuit against them, or to reduce the risk of recidivism in the future.
While Forensic Psychologists have much in common with psychologists dealing with any client or patient, there are also some important differences and challenges. For example, their time together with their client is likely to be short-lived and to focus on certain specific issues rather than on more general issues of mental wellness. Their client may not be attending sessions voluntarily but in response to a court order, which can be a substantial challenge, particularly in terms of establishing trust. It can also be challenging to balance one’s ethical responsibilities towards one’s client with those to the legal process. Competencies and experience in this area are crucial for anyone hoping to work in this field.
Who can I speak to further about Forensic psychology?
If you would like to talk to someone about Forensic Psychology, please get in touch with us at the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 3887 1738 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melton, Gary (1997). Psychological Evaluations for the Courts: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
Shapiro, David L. (1991). Forensic Psychological Assessment: An Integrative Approach. Needham Heights, MA: Simon & Schuster.
Wrightsman, L. &Fulero, S.M. (2005), Forensic Psychology (2nd ed.), Belmont, California: Thomson Wadsworth.