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What is Forensic Psychology?

FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY EXPLAINED

What is Forensic Psychology?

When seeking psychological support, it’s natural to look for a clinical psychologist as this is the largest and most prominent speciality within psychology, however, there are various other areas and subspecialties which have distinct ways of approaching mental health. 

One such subfield is forensic psychology.  Like clinical psychologists, forensic psychologists are required to have an in-depth understanding of human functioning and behaviour so there is some overlap in their approach to assessing and treating clients.  That said, forensic psychology is best described as the application of psychological theory and understanding to legal and judicial matters.    It is a diverse and versatile field, allowing those who train in this area to provide assessment and therapeutic intervention in a variety of settings.

Key responsibilities of a forensic psychologist

Assessment:

There is a strong focus on assessment, whereby forensic psychologists are called upon to provide expertise regarding criminal, civil and family matters.  With regard to family proceedings, there is a focus on child custody evaluations, parenting assessments, and evaluations of the impact of parenting and conflict on the wellbeing of children.  Forensic psychologists also advise on matters of abuse and/or neglect.  In criminal matters, clients may be assessed with regard to their mental state, mental capacity, competency to stand trial and risk.  Following assessment, forensic psychologists make recommendations to the court and may be called upon to act as expert witnesses.  This helps to inform the decision-making process for judges and juries.

Intervention:

Forensic psychologists deliver evidence-based psychological therapies in both individual and group formats.  They draw upon various therapeutic methods, including talking therapies, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy to determine the root of their clients’ difficulties and support the development of coping skills.    

Forensic psychologists may be asked to deliver court-ordered psychological interventions in both criminal and civil matters.  With regard to criminal cases, there is a focus on reducing risk of offending in addition to promoting mental health and wellbeing.  In civil cases, the Psychologist may treat families or individuals who are going through divorce or who have experienced trauma.

Consultation and Training

Forensic psychologists offer expertise to lawyers, courts and law enforcement.  This may include criminal profiling, advising on witness credibility, as well as mental health issues within the court.  They may also provide consultation to other professionals and organisations to develop policies, design therapeutic programmes and advise on practices that facilitate recovery, wellbeing and pro-social functioning, as well as risk reduction. 

Who do forensic psychologists work with?

In addition to providing court-ordered assessments and therapy, and working with offenders/those at risk of offending, forensic psychologists support a range of clients, including those presenting with the following:

  • Chronic and complex mental health challenges
  • Personality Disorder
  • Challenging behaviour
  • Vulnerable/at-risk clients with a history of trauma
  • Substance misuse issues
  • High risk to self /others
  • Parental conflict/family breakdown
  • Victims of abuse and crime

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