Forensic psychologists help attorneys, judges and other specialists understand the psychological elements of cases. They achieve this by applying the principles of psychology to the criminal justice and legal system. Forensic psychologists work mostly on criminal cases and as expert witnesses to attest to the mental state and competence of individuals. Others work on family and civil cases. Due to the subspecialties, their duties depend greatly on their roles.
Forensic psychologists may help victims of disturbing or violent crimes accept and process what they have lost or seen. General counselors go through standard training, but those with criminal expertise get specialized training and can often provide more insight and comfort for the victims. The areas of counseling that they could be involved in include domestic violence, mental health and crisis intervention. Some of the services that they may provide include family assessment, family reunification and stabilization, help developing support outside of the family and in-home care. Additionally, forensic psychologists may use clinical psychology skills to help people struggling with substance abuse and to treat sex offenders.
Giving Expert Testimony
The defendants of criminal cases must be competent and in the right state of mind to stand trial and be found guilty. To determine competency, forensic psychologists evaluate the defendants to ensure that they can understand the proceedings, assist in their defense and consult with attorneys. When defendants are incompetent, the psychologists determine the cause, necessary treatment, how likely they are to stand trial after treatment and wehther they qualify for involuntary admission into a mental institution. To determine whether the defendants are in the right state of mind and committed the crimes with intent, they review the defendants’ histories and the case evidence before telling the court of their findings.
The role of forensic psychologists could involve forensic treatment, which requires them to provide counseling services to people who are incarcerated for sexually motivated or violent crimes. This might include providing drug education, resolving family problems and treating sex offenders in a prison setting. Forensic psychologists could also provide therapy for inmates who are causing problems in the prison as well as develop and manage programs that reduce the habitual recurrence of sexual, violent or otherwise criminal behavior. They could also be involved in dual diagnosis programs, which involve the treatment of inmates who have mental health disorders and abuse substances.
Profiling is a common duty for forensic psychologists who have criminal expertise, and it is usually what people think of when they hear the term “forensic psychology.” This involves assessing crime scenes for any evidence that the perpetrators have left behind. As profilers, forensic psychologists can help identify the individuals and determine why they committed the crimes. The information put together with profiling helps law enforcement officials make arrests. This is just one of the major duties of the job for many forensic psychologists, but it is the only thing that some of them do.
Researching Psychological Trends
Although most careers in forensic psychology are interpersonal in nature, forensic psychologists do not always work with others and may choose a path that focuses on research. These individuals work to discover trends and identify patterns, publishing their conclusions in scholarly journals. Their research could range from reviewing eyewitness testimonies to determining how to improve interrogation tactics. Some researchers in the field are dedicated to developing special tests that help evaluate people in a range of legal situations. Others study the psychological impact that criminal and violent behavior has on the victims. While some forensic psychologists solely conduct research, others are university professors as well.
As a highly specialized field, forensic psychology requires students to understand the standards and philosophy of the judicial system. They must earn a master’s degree for most jobs and may continue their education to earn a doctorate degree.