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Psy 510 Contemporary and Ethical Issues in Psychology - Forensic Psychology

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Forensic Psychology

Bonnie King

Grand Canyon University

PSY-510 Contemporary and Ethical Issues in Psychology

October 04, 2017


Forensic Psychology

     The word forensic means a laboratory or department responsible for tests used in detection of crime and psychology is described as, the mental and emotional factors governing a situation or activity. Connecting the two, we get “Forensic Psychology”, to use scientific methods in research toward unlawful human behavior in conjunction with legal processes (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).

     Depending in what area of expertise, entering this field, one must have a clear understanding of the law and legal processes. Have the knowledge to identify psychological processes of human behavior and can clarify in documentation the association, or as related to the crime or case (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).


      In 1921, the first published case in which a psychologist was an expert witness was the case of State v. Driver. This was the first time a psychologist was permitted to give testimony in court. Although, the psychologist’s testimony was ultimately rejected in this case (Bartol & Bartol, 2012), it still cleared the way for future psychologist to show themselves and be heard.

     A series of events happened between the years of 1922 through 1972 that served as importance to the field. A psychologist was permitted to testify at civil trial, the very first textbook on forensics was published, which was written by a psychologist, the first theory on criminal behavior was developed and tested, and the very first police psychologist began corroborating with law enforcement. In addition to, all of these milestones, the most historical event took place when the American Association for Correctional Psychology (AACP) recognized correctional psychology as a professional career (Heilbrun & Brooks, 2010).  

     More recognition of the field came forth into the new millennium. There was now certified specialist in forensic psychology and the American Psychological Association gave approval for clinical internship. Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists was branched out by the American Academy of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society (Bartol & Bartol, 2012), and by 2001, the American Psychological Association finally recognized forensic psychology as a subspecialty and the credibility holds to this day (Bartol, 1996).

Police Psychology

     Police psychology is a subspecialty area of forensic psychology. In this area, the forensic psychologist assists police departments with the evaluation of aspiring new employees and current, tenured employees. Assisting law enforcement with the screening procedures and safety measures, including being involved in police interrogations and analyzing confessions. Lastly, the psychologist gives assistance in the training and working with mentally ill citizens and provides police officers and their families with counseling, if they should need it (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).

     In police psychology, the forensic psychologist evaluates police officers that were exposed to any hostage, traumatic, or shooting situation (Kocsis, 2006). In an unethical situation, such as, an officer that was exposed to a horrific crime and the psychologist determines that the officer is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (American Psychiatric Association, 2011), and decides to let the officer continue working because the psychologist feels sympathy for the officer. The psychologist put the public at risk by not reporting this and controversy breaks out by the media targeting the psychologist’s actions. For this reason, a person entering this field must have proper training in mental disorders and law enforcement.

Investigative Psychology

     This newer branch of psychology is often associated with criminal profiling, but confused with forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists draw on the fields of law and psychology and work within the legal system. They work as expert witnesses, trial consultants, academic researchers and law enforcement consultants. They typically evaluate witnesses to judge their credibility, competency and even sanity. On the other hand, criminal profiling is a set of tools that helps law enforcement professionals profile offenders and predict criminal behavior. This type of behavioral profiling has been popularized by well-known criminal investigation TV shows. However, investigative psychologists focus on examining all forms of crime in order to facilitate the legal and law enforcement process (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).

     Investigative psychologists perform both hands-on and abstract scientifically-based research and analysis. They often examine criminal styles and patterns in order to understand the offender’s thought processes and psychological characteristics. As an example, they perform offender profiling that will hopefully assist with apprehending a target criminal (Morgan, Beer, and Fitzgerald, 2007). They also perform comprehensive analyses of the legal and investigative decisions and process. For instance, they may interview victims, predict violent behavior and review the involved detective’s decision-making process.  

     The controversial topic in investigative psychology is the polygraph. This machine is supposed to detect fabrication or lies of a suspect under investigation (Kocsis, 2006). However, with all the new devices available many people are finding ways to cheat the machine, so the evidence is most often ruled out in criminal cases.  

Correctional Psychology

     Correctional psychologists play a crucial role within the mental health industry. Correctional psychologists face the daunting task of providing mental health treatment to those placed in custodial correctional settings. The main responsibility of a correctional psychologist is to rehabilitate inmates, and to help them make transition from prison, back into the free world.    

     Correctional psychologists also use their skills to create a safer atmosphere for staff dealing with inmates. These professionals attempt to lessen the likelihood of physical violence against those working in prisons. In addition to these responsibilities, correctional psychologists often weigh in on parole recommendations, and conduct psychological evaluations of inmates.

     Some issues to consider involve the ethical responsibilities that this job requires. While patients in normal settings have the benefit of treatment which focuses firstly on their own safety, psychologists working within correctional settings must first regard the safety of the correctional facility (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). Any abuses or violent behaviors must be reported- and therefor undermine fundamental posits of therapeutic intervention. Furthermore, correctional psychologists may be occasionally asked to perform duties that are more like the job descriptions of correctional officers. This may create further ethical problems for the psychologists in question.



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