Forensic Psychology: Limitation of Forensic Assessments

Topics: Psychology, Clinical psychology, Forensic psychology Pages: 13 (4647 words) Published: May 9, 2008
From time immemorial, man has been fascinated with behavioral deviations from the normative particularly in the context of crime, or more generally, morality. In fact, classical playwrights and novelists such as Shakespeare and Dostoevsky owe their literary success to their incredible ability to glare into socially and morally deviant minds and weave stories around them. We see a similar trend today. Much of primetime television is filled with shows that have experienced psychoanalysts chasing sophisticated and grossly deviant criminals or some variation of this general theme. The general public tends to relate to the job of a forensic psychologists to that of a cat chasing a mouse. Forensic psychology, however, is a far less glamorous and far more complex endeavor. It is defined loosely as the "intersection between Psychology and the legal system". More specifically, forensic psychologists are required to evaluate the competency of a subject to stand trial, to examine a subject's present state of sanity and his/her state of sanity at the time of the crime, to predict whether a subject has behavioral inclinations to commit the crime again (which is important for length and type of sentencing) and, if a criminal is convicted, to develop rehabilitation programs to measure the progress of rehabilitation in general. Forensic psychology also includes the behavior and emotional state of victims as well. One might, for example, need to establish psychologically whether a child has been sexually abused or not. Even jury selection and eyewitness identification all fall under the purview of forensic psychology. As vast a field as it already is, forensic psychology is fast growing as the importance of a behavioral approach to crime and the legal system is being realized. Forensic psychologists are often engaged professionally in the legal system as 'expert witnesses', witnesses who are considered to have knowledge outside the range of the general public. Hence, their opinion can be pivotal in a trial. Forensic psychologists, therefore, have great responsibility as their psychological estimations play a big part in conviction and sentencing of the defendant in question. An inaccurate diagnosis or opinion given in court can have major repercussions, the greatest of which would be the denial of justice to either the defendant or the plaintiff. As a result, a forensic psychologist needs to have a greater grasp of various psychological assessments then his clinical counterpart. He/she must be well versed in a test's strengths, limitations, areas of jurisdiction and so forth in order to do justice to the gravity and impact of his opinion. Whereas in the case of a clinical psychologist, an incorrect diagnosis can be corrected in time and treatment can be altered if initially found ineffective (in fact, it is highly unlikely that the treatment first prescribed remains unaltered throughout), in the case of a forensic psychologist, a wrong diagnosis can lead to an innocent man being jailed or a guilty man being let free.

The aims of a forensic psychologist and a clinical psychologist are different to begin with. Their approach to psychological assessments, therefore, must follow suit. A psychological test infers something about the psyche of a given individual by comparing him/her using a standardized test to a norm (usually a sample population). This definition applies to both forensic and normal clinical psychology. As a result, many of the prominent psychological tests used in forensic psychological are well used tests by clinical psychologists as well. Over the years, as judicial requirements of psychology increased, many clinical psychological tests were adapted (or, in some cases, merely applied without any change) in forensic psychological assessments. However, clinical psychological assessments were developed for diagnostic purposes. When they are used in forensic...
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