Mrs. Du Toit is confused over
the term "forensic psychologist." She and her commenters take a stab at understanding what it is that we do and why in the world we preface the word psychologist with "forensic." Some of the comments
are totally off the mark, others humorous and one is in the ball park of understanding what we do in the field but is too limiting:
She counsels people who have legal problems? She investigates legal problems from a psychological point of view?
I was under the impression that a forensic psychologist would be a criminal psychologist who uses his professional skills to help solve crimes (profiling serial killers - that sort of thing), as opposed to a criminal psychologist who studies criminals to try and understand what motivates people to commit crimes, say.
Oh, yeah. It may be the 21st century equivalent of the “domestic engineer” or “sanitary engineer.” Perhaps someone keenly aware of his own shortcomings in his particular metier or milieu appends a polysyllabic adjective to assuage his feelings of inadequacy. Or big words make me sound more important.
I don’t know whether it’s correct or not, but the concept I have for a “forensic psychologist” as opposed to a regular psychologist is that where a non-forensic psychologist has access to a subject, asks them questions and so on, and then draws conclusions about the subject’s mind based on the answers and responses to stimuli that they obtain themselves and can adjust and refine, a forensic psycologist has to attempt to draw conclusions without having access to interactive testing for the subject - they have to work backwards from only observed actions and attempt to establish motives.
Another commenter, a psychiatrist, attempts to explain what we do but gives only information about insanity evaluations, as if this is all that we do.
Let me clarify what forensic psychologists are and what we do. We are not typically "profilers" like you see in Silence of the Lambs
-- that is generally the province of those in law enforcement, although I have done a few such cases. They are a rarity in my field. The word "forensic" is derived from the Latin "forum," the place where trials were conducted in Roman times. The current use of "forensic" denotes a relationship between one professional field such as medicine, pathology, chemistry, anthropology and psychology, with the adversarial legal system (Handbook of Psychology, Volume 11, 2003). We provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system. We deal with civil and criminal cases--a civil case being something like a child custody evalution or psychological injury to a person in a ligation case. On the criminal side, we might be asked to determine if someone is competent to stand trial, provide a violent risk assessment for someone who has committed a crime, or determine legal sanity.
Most of us have a PHD in clinical or counseling psychology with post-doctoral work in forensic psychology. A doctorate takes an average of seven to eight years of graduate work and includes a one year post-doc in many states, including Tennessee. In order to be an experienced forensic psychologist, one needs to study law, not necessarily in law school, although some forensic psychologists have a PHD in clinical psychology and a JD in law. There are some forensic psychology PHD programs such as the one
at John Jay Criminal College in New York. The American Academy of Forensic Psychology
where I receive much of my training provides excellent programs in everything from the role of the Forensic Psychologist in Death Penalty Litigation to a crash course in Law School.
There are many differences between regular clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists that people do not seem to understand. In a clinical setting, one evaluates or does psychotherapy with the client to benefit the patient in terms of personal growth and support. Forensic psychologists use their results of an assessment (and yes, we actually work with the client, whether that be in a prison setting, in court, or in our office--the patients are generally alive, not dead) to help or educate the court without regard to the potential of the person being examined. We are not a therapist to them, we do not counsel them, nor are we even supposed to have an empathetic orientation towards the client; we are supposed to remain detached, neutral and objective. If you are intestested in following up on the difference between clinical and forensic psychologists, read this article
by Greenberg and Shuman (1997).
Just to conclude this long-winded post, being a forensic psychologist is hard work. It is not to be undertaken lightly, for the training is arduous, the pay sucks, and the work, rather than being glamorous, is often tedious and involves working with the seedy side of human nature. I would say many of my colleagues
If you still think you are interested at this point, here are a couple of books I recommend to give you more insight into the field: Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology
and Handbook of Psychology, Forensic Psychology.
Or here is a good (and free) website about the field
Labels: forensic psychology