What is Forensic psychology?
The mere mention of the word “forensic” could lead some individuals to a fantastic view of crime scene investigators and profilers working diligently to solve a crime and bring the culprit to justice.
However, although this media portrayal is indeed entertaining, it is a far cry from the roles and objectives that the sub-specialty of forensic psychology entails.
Before we can view the basics of forensic psychology, we must first review what the field of general psychology entails. Psychology refers to the application of the scientific method towards the study of behavior. In other words, the goal of psychology is to make use of scientific standards as a means to understand behavior. Later, through the revision and scrutiny of this data, also known as peer review, the information is applied to predict behavior and assist with assessment and treatment.
Now, the term forensic refers to matters that are within the legal system. As such, forensic psychology is the application of psychology in law enforcement, the judicial system, and corrections. In civil court, forensic psychology can be used to deal with persons facing child custody disputes, assessment of disability claims, harassment trials among others. Furthermore, forensic practitioners could work with records review for a court or an attorney to analyze potential sources of evidence in a case prior, during and after litigation.
Forensic psychologists can help law enforcement during the recruitment process and treatment of police officers and military service members. In the same way, forensic psychology could be applied to assist in an ongoing criminal investigation. These processes could include crime analysis and suspect profiling.
In criminal court, a forensic psychologist could work in cases where the individual might be deemed unfit to stand trial or not guilty for reason of insanity. This type or role involves determining if a defendant can understand the proceedings and if he or she is capable of assisting in his or her defense. Likewise, if a person confesses to a crime and claims to be guilty of a given offense, a forensic psychologist might be called upon to evaluate whether or not a person was able to make such claim. If the person is then sentenced to death, forensic psychologists could conduct evaluations as to whether capital punishment is suitable provided that no severely diminished cognitive capacity is present.
Consider a person that must serve a sentence in a correctional facility. In this setting, a forensic psychologist could be part of the eclectic team that provides assessment and intake services to serve the needs of the inmate best. Similarly, some forensic psychologists can also work as mental health providers by providing therapy or those paying debts to society. Additionally, practitioners could develop and provide treatment plans for the person’s rehabilitation while incarcerated, upon release, and after such sentences have been served or paroled.
Therefore, to comply with these roles as well as other referrals, forensic psychologists make use of myriad tools and skills that are geared to towards the application of psychology and the law.
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