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The term forensic psychologist encompasses a broad area of psychology that deals directly with the intersection of the profession with the legal system. In its most basic terms, forensic psychologists tend to play a crucial role in the evaluation and assessment of criminal offenders. However, they also work directly with victims and victim advocates.
Usually, research is at the center of their work just as much as presenting evidence in a trial case. In addition, they advise mental health tribunals and parole boards in an effort to provide judicial answers to the community.
Alternatively, neuropsychology in the criminal field typically involves evaluations through collateral interviewing, clinical interviewing and the review of comprehensive records. Generally, a neuropsychologist will perform a battery of tests specifically tailored to meet the needs of the individual case in a court of law.1
Defining Forensic Psychology
A forensic psychologist is typically involved in the collection, examination and ultimately the presentation of evidence in a judicial court case. This can happen at both the civil and criminal level. The work provided by a forensic psychologist is often the result of a request from a judge or an attorney to help assess the competency of a defendant in a court case.
The process that the forensic psychologist follows is usually based on analysis as applied through a full assessment and evaluation. However, this is significantly different from the analysis performed in a clinical setting. When a psychologist treats a patient in a clinical setting, they generally see the client’s point of view through an empathetic process. However, in forensic psychology, the psychologist does not provide treatment, but focuses more on evaluation and presenting evidence.
The forensic psychologist tends to assess and evaluate the consistency of all supplied factual information from a variety of sources. Many times, the general state of mind of the defendant comes into question as it directly relates to being a suspect of a criminal act. The forensic psychologist might be called upon to help determine if a defendant that is pleading insanity in a case is only feigning illness instead of actually having a genuine condition.
The most crucial component to the duties of a forensic psychologist is in the testimony they present in a courtroom. This is often the most challenging and demanding aspect of the job, as it is evidently different from other traditional aspects of psychology and treatment. To be successful, forensic psychologists are required to have a firm understanding of the law and how legal situations are handled in the courtroom.
Defining Forensic Neuropsychology
Forensic neuropsychology is a career in the legal judicial system that generally involves applying numerous neuropsychological assessment modalities in an effort to evaluate civil or criminal litigants. The neuropsychologist will assess and evaluate a variety of collateral sources of data to assist the court system when called upon by the judge or attorneys. Many times, the examiner will be highly qualified in both clinical neuropsychology and forensic psychology.
Generally, the examiner will use a battery of neuropsychological testing that can take days to complete. They measure a variety of cognitive functions looking for consistency as is generally indicated in many forensic settings. They often test for reduced or malingering efforts in a way to find patterns of behavior in the suspect or witness in the case.
In its most basic form, neuropsychology involves the research and understanding of brain-behavior relationships. It often involves an objective assessment of how brain abnormalities produce psychological effects. It also evaluates brain damage and brain disorders. The testing is applied to the justice system using neuropsychological concepts, principles and assessment procedures.
Often times, the court system will refer suspects and witnesses for forensic neuropsychological evaluations to determine neurocognitive impairments that might be directly associated with development disorders, or psychiatric or neurologic conditions.
These types of evaluations provide the court system the objective information required to help make decisions in criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, this type of evaluation is directly involved with mitigation, sanity and fitness. It helps evaluate a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders including learning disorders and mental retardation. In addition, it can also help evaluate dementia, epilepsy and brain injuries.
Extensive evaluations help to determine psychiatric disorders that include mood disorders, psychosis and personality disorder. This is often necessary in guardianship and competency cases where a judge or jury must decide exactly how to proceed with the case in reaching a decision, a verdict or conclusion.
Both forensic psychology and neuropsychology are effective tools in helping to understand abnormal and normal behavior as it is relative to the legal criminal or civil system. Professionals are often involved in the diagnosis and treatment of victims and criminals that have experienced trauma. Both careers are rewarding and exciting.