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Careers - Forensic Psychology

The Guidelines for Forensic Psychology developed by the American Psychological Association define forensic psychology as "acting as an expert on psycholegal matters to assist the courts, parties to legal matters, attorneys, or agencies, on matters proceeding to adjudication."

Forensic psychology is the interface between psychology and the law, and while all psychological services provided for the legal community are technically forensic psychological services, most psychologists do not consider clinical services provided in forensic cases to be true forensic psychological services. When a psychologist treats an individual who was emotionally traumatized by an accident, the treatment is clinical in nature, designed to assist the individual in recovering from the trauma. But, when asked to provide a report for the court, regarding the extent of the trauma, and to assess the psychological damage incurred, then the psychologist is providing forensic services. These differences may be subtle at times, but important. Many clinical psychologists provide clinical services to individuals on matters which are "proceeding to adjudiction," but few of these psychologists would consider themselves to be forensic psychologists.

Most importantly, forensic psychologists must be excellent evaluators. But, a clinical diagnosis is rarely the goal of a forensic evaluation. Typically, the goal is to shed light on a legal question, such as whether an individual is competent to stand trial, or which parent is more suitable as the primary custodian for a child, or the extent of psychological trauma that resulted from an accident. The clinical assessment is just the first part of the forensic evaluation. After determining the clinical factors present, a forensic psychologist must relate those factors to the legal situation, and offer an opinion regarding the relationship between the clinical and legal factors. And, this opinion is presented in public, either in a report or through testimony in court. Once presented, the opinion is open to criticism, and may be challenged by opposing attorneys, or by other experts.

 

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