Forensic Psychology


What is forensic psychology? 

Forensic psychology is the application of psychology to the legal system. Specifically, forensic psychologists are called upon to apply psychological principles, theory, research and data to answer legal questions.


What is a forensic assessment?

Forensic assessment is used when a psychologist is hired to answer a specific legal question (i.e. competency, insanity, etc.). Depending on the specific question, the psychologist will conduct a clinical interview, collateral interviews (e.g. with witnesses, family, friends, attorneys, police officers, etc.), review records (i.e. medical, psychological, criminal, school, etc.), administer psychological tests, and form an opinion to answer the legal question.

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How is forensic assessment different from clinicial assessment?

Forensic assessment is not the same as clinical (or therapeutic) assessment. When a client is referred for clinical assessment, he or she is often posing their own questions regarding treatment, diagnosis, progress, etc. In forensic evaluations, the client can be court ordered or referred by their attorney to assist in their legal case. Therefore, forensic assessment can sometimes create an adversarial relationship between the psychologist and client, as opposed to a therapeutic one. Other differences include:

  • A narrow focus to answer the specific legal question
  • The psychologist does not act in a therapeutic or "helping" role, as the goal of the evaluation is not to provide therapeutic feedback
  • A focus on the client's accurate portrayal of information (rather than his or her perspective)
  • A lack of guidance or autonomy on behalf of the client to answer his or her own questions
  • The possibility of the client's distortion or inaccurate portrayal of information
  • The setting of a forensic evaluation does not always take place in a psychologist's office, but can take place in a jail or other correctional setting
  • Can be limited by time restraints


When might a forensic evaluation be necessary?

Clients are referred for a forensic evaluation when their attorney believes it may be beneficial to their legal case or when the judge orders someone to participate in such an evaluation. Some common legal questions that forensic psychologists are required to answer are:

  • Insanity (mental condition of the defendant at the time of the commission of the crime)
  • Competency (mental condition of the defendant at the time of the trial) •Sentencing recommendations
  • Violence risk assessment
  • Sex offender risk assessment
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Mental disability (inability to work due to a psychological disorder)


Family Court

Child Custody Evaluations, Visitation Risk Assessments, Grandparent Visitation Evaluations, Mediation of Parental Conflicts about Children, Child Abuse Evaluations, Adoption Readiness Evaluations, Development of Family Reunification Plans, and Evaluations to Assess Termination of Parental Rights.


Psychotherapy and counseling to families referred by the court:

  •  Parent-child family counseling
  • Therapeutic supervised visitation
  • Parenting skills training
  • Anger management
  • Divorce adjustment counseling for children and/or adults
  • Parental communication skills training


Civil Court

Personal Injury Evaluations, IME Second Opinion Evaluations, Assessment of Emotional Factors in Sexual Harassment and Discrimination, Worker's Compensation Evaluations, Civil Competency Evaluations, and Psychological Autopsies.


In Civil Court cases, psychologists also provide psychotherapy and counseling to individuals for the following problems:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Phobias Related to Traumatic Events
  • Psychological Factors in Chronic Pain
  • Anger Management
  • Adjustment Counseling following trauma
  • Couple Counseling regarding the impact of the trauma on the relationship
  • Desensitization


Criminal Court

Evaluations of Juveniles accused of criminal acts, Juvenile Pre-sentencing Evaluations, Juvenile Probation Evaluations, Juvenile Waiver Evaluations, Evaluating the Credibility of Child Witnesses, Assessment of Juvenile and Adult Sexual Offenders, Competency and Diminished Capacity Evaluations, and Adult Pre-sentencing Evaluations.


Psychologists also provide counseling and psychotherapy services to individuals involved with the Criminal Court. The issues addressed include:

  • Counseling of individuals who violate restraining orders
  • Counseling juveniles on probation
  • Supportive counseling for the victims of crimes
  • Counseling of individuals awaiting trial
  • Counseling adults on probation
  • Anger management skills training for violent offenders
  • Counseling and psychotherapy for sexual offenders

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