The discipline of clinical psychology is evolving. Clinical psychologists are no longer limited to couches and working out of their own offices. They are now being put in the stand in courtrooms all over the world. Not because they are on trial themselves, however. Rather, they are there to share their expertise in areas that involve an individual in legal matters.
The field of forensic psychology has grown in the 21st century because courtrooms recognize the value of psychologists testimonies to help juries reach a clearer verdict. Not only that, but psychologists can help identify competence to stand trial, perform psychological autopsies and criminal profiling, and also aid in child custody cases. Like all fields in psychology, forensics has many perspectives. This walk-through of forensic psychology will discuss the history, methods, and prospects for the future of this field.
There is not a singular function that clinical psychologists perform in the legal system. Rather, there are many different roles and areas that they can undertake.
For example, they can focus on law enforcement psychology, the psychology of litigation, correctional psychology, and forensic psychology (Nietzel, Bernstein, & Milich, 1998). However, the latter is our main focus.
Forensic psychology involves many different areas in which clinical psychologists can be considered experts in: competency to stand trial and criminal responsibility, psychological damages in civil trials, civil competencies, psychological autopsies and criminal profiling, and child custody and parental fitness (Nietzel et al., 1998).
The reason why criminal competence is necessary to establish is because according to United States law, the criminal must understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings. This is required for several reasons.
First, if the defendant is competent, the results of the trial are more likely to be accurate. Second, it would be considered immoral to sentence a convicted defendant of something that he or she doesnt understand. Lastly, the whole theory behind our judicial system relies on the defendant being able to defend his or herself in court. If the defense believes the defendant was not competent at the time of the unlawful act, the defense can plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Then forensic psychologists can testify whether or not they believe the defendant is insane or not. If the defendant is found to be insane, then the judge sentences him or her to a mental institution until the judge is convinced that the defendant is ready to be released.
If the defendant is not found to be insane, then the trial proceeds. Several rules have been made in determining insanity, which have changed over the years to accommodate changing standards. Such rules include the McNaughton, Durham, and ALI rule (Nietzel et al.,1998).
Forensic psychologists also examine psychological damages in civil trials. One of their duties is to decide whether these damages were due to the tort, which is the wrongful act that causes harm to an individual.
The psychologist performs assessments similar to regular clinical assessments that include social history, clinical interview, psychological testing, and available records. After the assessment, the expert decides if the psychological damage was present before the tort, or if it occurred due to the tort. Another duty of forensic psychologists is to examine workers compensation cases. They must decide how long the worker needs to recover from mental damages that their work-place may have caused. Similar to the tort cases, the expert must discover whether the injury was due to the place of employment or if it was already present (Nietzel et al., 1998).
Civil competencies deal with whether or not a person is able to understand information that is used to make decisions and then act accordingly. Examples include whether a person is capable of managing financial situations, or if he or she is able to choose or refuse medical treatment. Scholars have agreed that four abilities are necessary to make decisions competently: understanding information pertaining to the decision to be made, applying that information with concern to the consequences of the decision, thinking rationally to evaluate strategies, and the communication of the decision. It is up to the clinical psychologist to determine if the person is making a rational decision by means of clinical evaluation, and then relaying this .