AN INTRODUCTION TO FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY1
WHAT IS 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.
•Much of the ongoing debate about how forensic psychology should be centred on whether the
definition should be narrow or broad.
oA narrow definition of forensic psychology would focus on certain aspects of the field
while ignoring other, potentially important, aspects.
oFor example, a narrow definition of forensic psychology might focus on applied aspects
while ignoring the experimental research that many psychologists (who refer to
themselves as forensic psychologists) conduct.
oAmerican 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 psychology as “the professional
practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counselling
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.”
Thus, according to the ABFP and AP-LS 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 technically be doing work in the area of forensic psychology.
oBy their very nature, broad definitions of forensic psychology are less restrictive than
oA broad definition of the discipline is:
(a)The research endeavour that examines aspects of human behaviour directly related
to the legal process.
(b)The professional practice of psychology, within, or in consultation wit, a legal system
that embraces both civic and criminal law.
THE ROLES OF A FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST?
•Clinical forensic psychologists: Psychologists who are broadly concerned with the assessment
and treatment of mental health issues as they pertain to the law or legal system.
•On the research side, a frequent task for the clinical forensic psychologist might involve the
validation of an assessment tool hat has been developed to predict the risk of an offender being
violent (e.g., an offender to assist the parole board in making an accurate determination of
whether that offender is likely to pose a risk to the community.)
oOther issues that clinical forensic psychologists are interested in may include, but are
certainly not limited to, the following:
Divorce and child custody meditation
Determinations of criminal responsibility (insanity) and competency to stand trial
Providing expert testimony on questions of a psychological nature
Personnel selection (e.g., for law enforcement agencies)
Conducting critical incident stress debriefings
Designing and conducting treatment programs for offenders
•As in the United States, a clinical forensic psychologist in Canada must be a licensed clinical
psychologist who has specialized in the forensic area.
•The educational requirements to obtain a license vary across provinces and territories, but some
form of graduate training is always required.