Although both a clinical and forensic psychologist have evaluative interactions with their clients, the way they interact with as well as the ethical responsibilities to the clients differ quite a bit.
Where a psychologist will address a broad spectrum of issues in a clinical setting, a forensic psychologist addresses only an explicitly defined set of interactions or events that are of a nonclinical type.
Importance of the Client’s Perspective
A clinician will place his or her primary focus on understanding the client’s own point of view, whereas the forensic psychologist will only be interested in the accuracy of the client’s statements.
Client’s Willingness to Volunteer
In a clinical setting, the psychologist is typically dealing with a voluntary client. Conversely, a forensic psychologist often times evaluates clients by order of a judge or at the bidding of an attorney.
Voluntary clients have more freedom with regard to the objectives of the assessment in that any assessment done takes their concerns into consideration. Objectives of a forensic psychologist, however, are restricted to any applicable statutes or common law elements that are relevant to the legal issue in question.
Threats to Validity
A therapist and client will work toward a common goal despite any unconscious misrepresentation on the part of the client. In a forensic situation, there is a far greater likelihood of purposeful and conscious distortion (i.e. malingering and exaggeration).
Relationships and Dynamics
Therapeutic interplay will work toward forming a trusting alliance, whereas a forensic psychologist may not nurture a client or act in a “helping” role since the evaluator has divided loyalties. A forensic evaluator must constantly be aware of manipulation, thus an emotional distance is absolutely necessary.
Pace and Setting
Where therapeutic interactions are guided by a wide range of factors, the forensic setting has many time restrictions due to court schedules, limited resources and other external factors. This places restraints on an evaluation and any probability of reevaluation of the client.