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What Does a Forensic Clinical Psychologist Do?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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A forensic clinical psychologist is a mental health professional who does clinical work or research related to crime and criminal law. One of the most important and common jobs of a forensic clinical psychologist is evaluating the mental fitness of suspected criminals before trial. People suffering from certain mental disorders may not be considered legally responsible for their actions, and it is the forensic clinical psychologist's job to determine when this is the case. Other possible jobs for forensic clinical psychologists include testifying in court, educating lawyers and judges, and providing treatment for individuals in the criminal justice system.

The specific work done by a forensic clinical psychologist tends to depend on his particular specialty in school and in clinical work. A youth or school psychologist, for instance, may speak to children in child abuse cases rather than evaluating suspected criminals for mental fitness. Neurologists are often called upon to evaluate possible neurological disorders that may lead to criminal behavior and psychiatrists are consulted when psychoactive drugs are necessary. Most clinical psychologists who specialize in forensic work, however, primarily conduct evaluations and diagnoses.

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Assessment of suspected criminals is the central job of the forensic clinical psychologist. This usually involves reviewing the details of a given case and of the suspect's criminal history. The most important part of assessment is, in most cases, conducting one or a series of meetings with the suspect. In-depth discussion and observation can generally provide the forensic clinical psychologist with enough information to make a judgment about the suspect's mental fitness and ability to take responsibility for crimes committed. The psychologist is often called upon to testify to the suspect's mental fitness or lack thereof in court.

Clinical psychologists who work outside of the sphere of the criminal justice system normally treat people who come to them willingly and who try to cooperate as much as possible. This is not always the case for a forensic clinical psychologist. Suspects may have no desire to meet with a psychologist and may, therefore, refuse to cooperate. Psychologists, then, must often make careful judgments based on the behaviors of uncooperative suspects.

In some cases, a forensic clinical psychologist may be called upon to provide treatment for individuals in the criminal justice system. Individuals in prisons or in prolonged trials may need psychological therapy that non-forensic psychologists cannot provide. Forensic criminal psychologists may also provide aid to those in the criminal justice system who suffer from problems with addiction and substance abuse.

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