Public Description of Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is the professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology or another specialty recognized by the American Psychological Association, when they are engaged as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system.

Advanced Scientific and Theoretical Knowledge Germane to the Specialty

Specialized knowledge for the practice of forensic psychology is required in three areas. These are:

  • Clinical (e.g., diagnosis, treatment, psychological testing, prediction and intervention measurement, epidemiology of mental disorders, ethics) 

  • Forensic (e.g., response style, forensic ethics, tools and techniques for assessing symptoms and capacities relevant to legal questions)

  • Legal (e.g., knowledge of law and the legal system, knowledge of where and how to obtain relevant legal information).

Problems

Forensic psychologists address psychological problems and questions that arise in the course of legal proceedings. Such problems and questions are typically part of larger legal questions to be decided by the courts or other administrative bodies. The legal issues can be divided into two main categories: 

  • Civil — those involved in civil litigation (e.g., personal injury suits, workers compensation, civil commitment, child custody determination)

  • Criminal — those involved in criminal and delinquency proceedings (e.g., sanity at the time of the offense, competency to stand trial, waiver of juveniles to adult courts).

Populations

Forensic psychology provides professional services to clinical/forensic and legal populations. The clinical forensic population is composed broadly of individuals who may present with mental or emotional disorders, or may have other characteristics, that are relevant to a legal decision.  The synthesis of clinical and legal issues into psycholegal issues distinguishes forensic populations from clinical populations. Forensic psychological services are also provided, in the form of consultations, to legal and administrative populations, including courts, attorneys and other administrative bodies.

Procedures

The procedures and techniques of forensic psychology focus on the evaluation and treatment of clinical disorders and other relevant characteristics in a legal context, and on providing reports, expert testimony and consultations on relevant findings.