PSYC 3020 Study Guide - Midterm Guide: Eyewitness Testimony, Forensic Psychology, Clinical Psychology
SchoolUniversity of Guelph
Course CodePSYC 3020
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Psychology of Law Unit 1
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Forensic Psychology
- Forensic psychology: a field of psychology that deals with all aspects of human behaviour as it
relates to the law or legal system.
- Although forensic psychologists often carry out the sorts of tasks you see in movies, the way in
which they carry them out is very different from and less glamorous than the typical Hollywood
image. The way in which forensic psychology is portrayed by the media is usually inaccurate.
What is forensic psychology?
- There is no generally accepted definition of the field. Forensic psychology is often referred to as
legal psychology or criminological psychology. Much of the debate about how forensic psych
should be defined centres on whether the definition should be narrow or broad. A narrow
definition would focus on certain aspects of the field while ignoring other, potentially important
aspects (focusing on applied aspects while ignoring the experimental research focus only on
the clinical or experimental aspects). This appears to be how many leading psychologists prefer
to define the discipline. The American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) and the American
Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS), define the field in a narrow fashion. These associations have
defined forensic psych as “the professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical
psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, when they are
engaged regularly as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended
to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system. Therefore, according to
this definition, any psychologist who provides expertise to the judicial system but happens to
work in an area of psychology outside the scope of their definition, such as social psychology,
would not be doing work in the area of forensic psych.
- In addition, psychologists who do not provide professional expertise to the judicial system on a
regular basis would not be considered a forensic psychologist (even if they worked in
neuropsychology, for example). For these reasons, many psychologists have problems using
narrow definitions to define forensic psych.
- Broad definitions are less restrictive. One definition proposed by Bartol and Bartol (2006) is “(a)
research endeavor that examines aspects of human behaviour directly related to the legal
process..and (b) the professional practice of psychology within, or in consultation with, a legal
system that embraces both civil and criminal law”. The narrow definition focuses solely on the
application of psychology to the legal system while the broad definition does not restrict
forensic psych to applied issues. It also focuses on the research that is required to inform
- Many leading psychologists and the professional association to which they belong, prefer the
narrow definition. Reflecting on the petition made to the American Psychological Association in
2001 to recognize forensic psych as a specialization, Otto and Heilbrun state that “forensic psych
should be defined narrowly, to include the primarily clinical aspects of forensic assessment,
treatment and consultation”. According to this definition the only individuals who should call
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themselves forensic psychologists are those who engage in clinical practice (assessing, treating,
or consulting) which leaves out those who spend their time conducting forensic-related research
– problems with narrow definitions.
- The textbook adopts a broad definition of forensic psych – forensic psych is an eclectic field and
its research frequently originates in areas not often obviously connected with the forensic area
such as social, cognitive, personality, and developmental psychology.
- No crime-based reality show has been more popular than Cops introduced by Fox network in
The roles of forensic psychologists
- Individuals who are interested in issues that arise at the intersection between psychology and
law. What typically differs across the definitions is the particular focus the forensic psychologist
takes (take on the role of the clinician or researcher). These roles are not mutually exclusive and
one person can take on more than one role. Some forensic psychologists are clinicians,
researchers and legal scholars.
The forensic psychologist as clinician
- Clinical forensic psychologists: are broadly concerned with the assessment and treatment of
mental health issues as they pertain to the law or legal system. This can include both research
and practice in a wide variety of settings (schools, prisons, hospitals). They are often concerned
with the assessment and treatment of persons with mental disorders within the context of the
law. Research side: validation of an assessment tool that has been developed to predict the risk
of an offender being violent. Practical side: assessment of an offender to assist the parole board
in making an accurate determination of whether the offender is likely to pose risk to the
- Other issues they are interested in may include: divorce and child custody mediation,
determinations of criminal responsibility (insanity) and competency to stand trial, providing
expert testimony on questions of a psychological nature, personnel selection (ex. for law
enforcement agencies), conducting critical incident stress debriefings, designing and conducting
treatment programs for offenders.
- A clinical forensic psychologist must be a licensed clinical psychologist who has specialized in the
forensic area. Some form of graduate-level training is always required. In Alberta,
Saskatchewan, NFL and Labrador, NB, NS, the requirement is a master’s degree in psychology,
while in BC, Manitoba, Ontario, PEI, and Quebec, a doctoral degree in psychology is required.
After the completion of the degree there is an intense period of supervised practice in an
applied forensic setting under an experienced clinical supervisor. The last step of the licensing
process is a comprehensive exam, which often involves an oral component.
- Forensic psychiatry: a field of medicine that deals with all aspects of human behaviour as it
relates to the law or legal system. In Canada, clinical forensic psych and forensic psychiatry are
more similar than different. Both are trained to assess and treat individuals experiencing mental
health problems who come into contact with the law and are involved in every component of
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the criminal justice system. They often engage in similar sorts of research as well (e.g.
developing causal models of violent behaviour). The most obvious difference is that psychiatrists
are medical doctors who can prescribe medication and therefore undergo different training.
- in contrast to a psychiatrist’s general reliance on a medical model of mental illness,
psychologists tend to view mental illness more as a product of an individual’s physiology,
personality and environment.
- Other forensic disciplines often confused with forensic psychology: forensic anthropology –
examine remains of deceased victims to determine key facts about them; forensic linguistics –
examine the spoken and written word to assist criminal investigators; forensic chemistry – study
chemical aspects of crime scenes; forensic ondontology – study dental aspects of criminal
activity which can include identifying deceased victims through dental records; forensic
pathology – examine the remains of dead bodies in attempt to determine the time and cause of
death through physical autopsy; forensic entomology – concerned with how insects can assist
with criminal investigations
The forensic psychologists as researcher
- Role of the experimenter and although it does not have to be separated from the clinical role, it
often is. Experimental forensic psychologists: are broadly concerned with the study of human
behaviour as it relates to the law or legal system. They can be interested in any research issue
that relates to the law or legal system.
- They can be interested in: examining the effectiveness of risk assessment strategies,
determining what factors influence jury decision making, developing and testing better ways to
conduct eyewitness lineups, evaluating offender and victim treatment programs, studying the
impact of questioning style on memory recall, examining the effect of stress management
interventions on police officers.
- They differ from clinical forensic psychologists in what they do and in their training. Those
primarily interested in research will have undergone Ph.D. level training in one of many different
types of experimental graduate programs (no internship usually required). The program will
have a faculty member associated with it who is conducting research in a forensic area. The
graduate research will be focused primarily on a topic related to forensic psychology.
- Is eclectic and requires expertise in areas such as memory processing, decision making,
organizational issues etc. The training is more varied than for clinical.
The forensic psychologist as legal scholar
- Much less common. Much of the focus resulted from the formation of two initiatives at Simon
Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby, BC. The first of these was SFU’s Psychology and Law
Program, established in 1991. This program has partnered with the University of BC to allow
students to obtain both their Ph.D. in psychology and their L.L.B. in law – forensic psychologists
who are much more informed about legal processes. The second initiative was formed in 1991
as well, the Mental Health, Law, and Policy Institute (MHLPI) at SFU. The purpose of MHLPI is to
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