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What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

Find a Psychiatrist A psychiatrist specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Certain areas of the brain e. Neuropsychologists examine these areas of the brain and others to determine the risk of criminals reoffending. Determining insanity or assessing prisoners prior to their release are also jobs neuropsychologists perform. Additionally, neuropsychologists can testify in court and collaborate with legal counsel for jury selection requirements.

Forensic psychologists specializing in this area are trained to apply principles of psychological practice to the law enforcement field. Often they're required to maintain expertise in both fields in order to fully understand situations in which they overlap. Law enforcement forensic psychologists may be employed in a variety of settings, and in both educational and forensic capacities. Police officers frequently require the assistance of law enforcement psychologists when dealing with crises such as suicide threats and other traumatic events.

Psychologists also design law enforcement training and stress management programs. This specialty is unique in that it incorporates comprehensive intervention and recovery technique training to accommodate the remarkably high stress levels that accompany the work. Forensic psychologists comprise a subsection of clinical, counseling and school psychologists in the U. Most jobs in the forensic psychology field require a master's degree, including high-level specialist and therapist positions. Specific concentrations include civic, family or criminal forensic psychology, among others.

At the graduate level, practical experience, state licensure and professional certification are required in addition to completing required curriculum to practice as a psychologist in the U. The following are a series of options along the path to becoming a successful forensic psychologist. Select the status that best describes your present level of education in the field:. To assist you in the process of selecting a school, we have created a database of top forensic psychology programs tailored to your needs.

Simply set the customizable filters to browse the best U. Foremost, as a forensic social worker or counseling psychologists, you use qualitative assessment tools to gather information about the person, the problem, and the circumstances. To give an inside perspective of forensic psychology, we sat down with forensic psychologist Dr. Raquel Warley to get her view on the ins-and-outs of the field.

When I was in 10th grade, a television show called "America's Most Wanted" debuted; it was the first of its kind. I was fascinated with the show, engrossed with the notions of crime and criminals. More specifically, I had a strong desire to learn about the criminal mind. For that reason, after graduating high school, I decided to attend college and to major in forensic psychology.

Trauma-Informed Juvenile Justice and Mental Health Systems

Immediately after receiving my bachelor's, I pursued a graduate degree in criminal justice. I then went to work for a research institution where I did face-to-face interviews with young offenders who were remanded to the care and custody of the New York State Department of Corrections for committing a violent offense; namely, robbery, aggravated assault, sexual assault, or homicide. During that time, I "discovered" the field of forensic social work.

Instantly, I was enamored with the field; I understood that being a member of the profession would give me an opportunity to work with people as victims of crime as well as offenders. Moreover, I realized it would make it possible for me to intercede with at-risk individuals before they actually committed a crime that could destroy their lives and the lives of others. In the mids, when I was applying to colleges, John Jay College School of Criminal Justice was identified as the number one institution of higher learning in the United States for this course of study.

Fortunately, the school was in my hometown, which made it geographically and financially appealing. By the time I returned to school to pursue my Master of Social Work degree, I had a family and a full-time job; I couldn't entertain the idea of attending a university outside New York City. Once again, it was my good fortune that a very reputable School of Social Work was located where I lived. I applied and was accepted to the graduate program.


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Post-graduation, I was immediately enrolled in the Ph. Frankly, I think a person with a foundation in adequate social skills makes for a good counseling psychologist. These core conditions involve the methodical and appropriate use of self in each and every interaction with clients. That is to say, the therapeutic effect is more a consequence of the connection and association between the therapist and the client than it is because of psychometric testing and treatment of mental disorders by psychoanalysis or other modes of psychotherapy and counseling. To hone one's skill in the effective use of self for this purpose, I recommend acquiring knowledge of six foundational theories of practice.

I call them the "Sexy 6": client-centered practice, solution-focused approach, strengths-based perspective, motivation enhancement, task-centeredness, and empowerment. Furthermore, I advise budding and veteran practitioners to become competent in techniques that give these practice models visible form in work activities with clients. Essentially, I am a generalist practitioner. This is, I have a fund of knowledge and experience that allows me to intervene effectively in a variety of settings, with diverse individuals who experience an array of mental and behavioral health disorders, as well as social problems.

Notwithstanding, one of my areas of expertise is forensics. My primary job is in academia. I am also a forensic examiner for the Pasadena Juvenile Court. Certainly, life is full of hurdles and some of us, for a variety of reasons, experience more hurdles than others in trying to achieve desired goals. The hurdle that was probably the most unexpected for me involved networking and mentorship. Some time ago, I realized that no one succeeds alone. Oftentimes, educational and career opportunities come by way of social and cultural capital.

Intellect, focus, initiative, and tenacity are important factors in regards to success; however, social relations with people and institutions that provide indispensable support i. In my role as forensic examiner I do biopsychosocial assessments and fitness evaluations for youth who are justice involved. These youth have been remanded to the care and custody of the Los Angeles Department of Probation and are either under the auspices of residential care or are being supervised in the community. The process begins with an attorney usually a public defender AKA an indigent attorney contacting me to inquire about my availability for taking a case.

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Once I agree to take a case, the attorney files a petition with the court to request my appointment as a forensic examiner. After a judge makes the appointment and the attorney sends me official record data i. When possible, I also gather information from the legal guardian. When asked to do a fitness evaluation, this means that the prosecutor wants the minor to be tried in adult court; therefore, I also offer my professional opinion regarding eligibility criteria for the youth's case to be heard in juvenile court.

Finally, I generate a confidential report of findings, which I submit to the defense attorney who makes a decision whether to present my assessment or evaluation to the court and, if so, to what extent that information will be presented. When deemed necessary by the defense, the prosecutor, or the judge, I will be subpoenaed to testify in court as an expert witness in a case. Honestly, working within the sphere of the criminal justice system, or any court setting, can be very dispiriting; nevertheless, I appreciate a number of things about my work. To that extent, you understand the "what" as well as the "why" of the situation under consideration.

Handbook of Forensic Assessment: Psychological and Psychiatric Perspectives

Qualitative assessment indicates the use of semi-structured or unstructured open-ended interviews to gather information and to make an appraisal of the matter. By this very fact, basic social and communication skills are so important. The integrity of the data provided by the client and collaterals are largely predicated on the practitioner's ability to develop rapport and a working alliance. I recognize the importance of these interpersonal conditions from a practical standpoint; furthermore, this process is agreeable to me as it humanizes the client and helps to suspend my judgment and personal biases.

Research and Publications | Patricia A. Zapf, PhD

On account of the aforementioned, when appropriate, I am able to effectively advocate for youth. This is absolutely the best part of the job in my opinion!


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  7. Although I am not always successful in changing the outcome of a case or what happens after adjudication, I am always willing to speak up for and to be an ardent supporter of what I believe is in the best interest of rehabilitation and good health for the client. Although there are times I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to gather information, organize the database, analyze the information, and present a fitting formulation for each case, I love doing this work! I feel blessed to make a decent living doing something that is both worthwhile and pleasing to me.

    The most interesting case I have had so far is one I am currently working on. I was asked to do a fitness evaluation for a youth whose charge petition includes nearly 15 felony counts. All of the alleged violations took place during a one-day crime spree. The youth denies wrongdoing.

    Handbook of Juvenile Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry

    What makes this case unusual is the heinous nature of the crime in the absence of ANY predisposing, precipitating, or perpetuating factors to explain the situation. In fact, there are only protective factors and several of them — attributes and conditions — that would eliminate the risk of the youth being criminal. Inasmuch as this individual maintains that the charges are mistaken or wrong and my account requires more than the standard assessment, I am very puzzled and uncertain about how to address the eligibility criteria for fitness in this case.

    I joined this group because it is the premier professional association in my field. As a member, among other perks, I receive the quarterly journal and a discount on the registration fee for the annual conference. At this time, I am very interested in literature on the cross-examination of expert witnesses, as well as training opportunities that effectively prepare me to give fitting court testimony in my capacity as a forensic examiner.

    Another matter to be prepared for is the dual responsibility that you may have to advocate for someone who has committed a crime in view of the protection of society. Sometimes these needs are not only different, they conflict. As a therapist, you are a container for clients' thoughts, feelings, and experiences.