Forensic mental health comprises a field of workers who work with the legal system as it relates to laws regarding mental health issues. These workers can be psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed counselors or social workers. The work in this field is varied, and includes a number of different areas.
Some forensic mental health workers, particularly psychiatrists, may examine those accused of a crime to determine fitness to stand trial, or level of criminal responsibility in those with severe mental illness. Often, such psychiatrists may offer expert testimony regarding their opinions on a suspect. These experts often clash with experts from opposing sides, meaning that the field is one that is subject to interpretation.
In other cases, workers may deal specifically with treating those with mental illnesses involving pedophilia or other disorders. They may work at criminal institutions for the mentally ill, and develop strategies for helping patients overcome extreme mental illnesses. Their goal is to reduce criminal recidivism.
Forensic mental health may also allow some therapists to profile suspects. For example, they may write or study teachings on the types of people most likely to be serial killers or to commit rapes. In some cases, such profiling also will mean expert testimony, but in many cases, the person simply helps assist in police investigations of specific types of crimes.
These workers must also be present to work with suspects who appear mentally ill and apprise them of their rights. They may work with a suspect to let him or her know how the law affects confidentiality, and what rights suspects may have in regards to either accepting or refusing medication. Forensic mental health workers may also work with families to appoint a person who can make decisions for a mentally ill suspect when that suspect is too ill to make such decisions on his or her own.
Most forensic mental health experts receive training first in the field of mental health, and then further training in forensics. For example, the average psychiatrist first becomes a doctor, then a psychiatrist, and finally may spend two or three years training in forensic psychiatry.
Some counselors or mental health professionals receive their training through organizations like the FBI. This is the case with many professional profilers in the US. Others attend schools designed to give this specific type of training.