Career In Foresnsic Psychology
Forensic psychology is a discipline that applies psychological principles and theories to the law and justice system, especially as they relate to criminal behavior and solving crime (Gudjonsson, Haward, 1998, p. 14). It is sometimes confused with forensic science as the two are closely related, but there are also many differences; namely, forensic psychologists investigate psychological perspectives and apply them to the criminal justice system. Contrarily, forensic psychologists often deal with legal issues, such as competency issues, new legislation, public policies, and assessment of whether a defendant’s defenses of mental states such as insanity are valid (Bloom, 2000). All of these subjects unite psychology and law topics and are significant to the discipline of Forensic Psychology.
Treating mentally ill offenders, negotiating with lawyers, analyzing a criminal’s mind and intent, – these are just some issues where knowledge in Forensic Psychology is used. Careers in Forensic Psychology require courses in psychology and criminal justice basal in one’s academic studies and very few educational institutions particularly give a degree in Forensic Psychology. Individuals wishing to habilitate in this area can use the help of clinical, social, cognitive, criminal investigative, and developmental psychology. The career of a forensic psychologist may focus merely on research, wandering from examining eyewitness testimony to discovering how to improve interrogation methods (Horley, 2003). One more form of Forensic Psychology work relates to public policy, where researchers can assist in projecting correctional facilities and prisons. Chiefly, Forensic Psychology embraces area between the standard alternatives of criminal justice, such as academic training, law enforcement, and corrections. (The University of Melbourne, 2006).
Forensic Psychology first began in 1901 when William Stern conducted experiments related to studying memory. He asked students to examine a picture for forty-five seconds and then try to remember what was happening in it. This test helped the psychologist to see how much the individual could remember at different intervals after seeing the picture. Such experiments forestalled many contemporary examinations about the reliability of eyewitness’ testimony in court. Due to his research Stern came to the conclusion that recalling memories is commonly inaccurate; the longer duration between seeing the picture and recalling it, the more mistakes were made. Individuals particularly recalled false information when they were given such lead-in questions as, “Did you see the man with the knife?” The individual would reply, “yes,” even if the man didn’t hold the knife. Police frequently uses lead-in questions in interrogations and in questioning witnesses (Bloom, 2000). Lewis Terman was the first to use psychology in law enforcement. In 1916 he designed the intelligence test. This test was applied to value the intelligence of thirty candidates for the police and fire-fighting jobs in San Jose, CA, USA. Today such kind of testing is used in most police departments all over the USA (Bloom, 2000). During the past several decades the demand for forensic psychologists has increased significantly.
Forensic psychologists work in various places including jails, hospitals, law enforcement bodies, mental health centres; opportunities also include juvenile detention facilities, private practice and universities, where they may undertake a variety of roles and jobs. Let’s examine the possible tasks a certain forensic psychologist may perform. For example, a man, named John, is accused of murdering his family in their sleep. Before John enters a plea, the court will definitely be interested in the fact whether John has the necessary intellectual ability to do so. A forensic psychologist may be asked to assess if John has necessary cognitive ability to realize the charges against him and can help in his defence. Let’s suppose that John was found able to enter a plea and stand trial for the crime. John’s lawyer may ask the court to use an insanity defence. Thus, a forensic psychologist may be again invited to ascertain whether John suffered from a mental illness such as paranoid schizophrenia at the time the crime occurred. If the diagnosis is confirmed, it will mean that John is incompetent to understand the nature of his actions or the difference between right and wrong. For example, if John was convicted of the murder, a psychologist may be asked once again to assess John’s potential violence in future, before he will be sentenced to a certain period of time in prison. Besides John may get to the institution where this particular psychologist works; so now it’s going to be his work to form and carry out a treatment program for John in order to stabilize and improve his state before he is released. It does not actually mean that a forensic psychologist can be involved in every aspect of this case, but it gives an image of what the possibilities are. In this case, forensic psychologists are likely to get inside the mind of a person. They may be asked to evaluate a person’s present cognitive and mental abilities. They also have a chance to play detective and try to ascertain their mental status at some point in the past. They even may be invited to predict someone’s behavior, for e.g. over the next 20 years, which is a very complicated aspect (Huss, 2001). However, these are challenges that most forensic psychology students find exciting.
Lawrence Wrightman found out that the most interesting thing for the students related to forensic psychology was their attraction to “criminal profiling”. Mostly, law enforcement agencies do not use criminal profiling procedures. Those agencies that use them, rather take law enforcement personnel, than use the help of a forensic psychologist. Criminal profiling is much more of a law enforcement technique and art form than it is a scientific process (cited in Huss, 2001). Thus, “profiling” is conducted mostly by law enforcement personnel who may or may not have special training in the behavioural sciences. What is even more important is that many graduate programs in forensic psychology do not treat favorably students whose only interest is in criminal profiling. Since the opportunities to work as a profiler are extremely rare, students who wish to make a career in forensic psychology need to have a vast interest in law enforcement (Huss, 2001).
Application of one’s knowledge in the domain of forensic psychology can be done in areas such as Clinical-Forensic Psychology which is similar to clinical psychology; where clients not only have a mental problem, but the result of it is essential for legal decision-making. Another area is developmental psychology which works with juveniles, the elderly and the law by focusing treatment on those with mental problems. Thirdly, social psychology should be examined as it relates to how jurors co-operate and reach a group decision. Next, related to social psychology is cognitive psychology which more broadly investigates how individuals make decisions in legal cases. Finally, criminal investigative psychology which is associated with police psychology, criminal profiling and psychological autopsies; where experts can carry out research or analyze thoughts and actions of the criminal suspects (Bloom, 2000).
The daily routine of a forensic psychologist in court can vary greatly from day to day. Mostly it involves research activities but a psychologist can be involved in other activities such as assisting in jury selection. The psychologist would have to wake up early to gather information about the juries, examine papers and interview potential jurors (Needs, 2004). His/her work would also include assisting the attorneys in excluding jurors whose views may negatively affect the outcome of the trial.
Advantages of forensic psychology are namely that you get to help people and this work can be very pleasant and uplifting once you see that your actions make positive differences in someone’s life. The changing environment is beneficial and every day is different while working in prisons. Thirdly, recognition is also an advantage as those working as expert witnesses are usually well known. Finally,personal fulfillment is another benefit as one would get to carry out research and psychologists’ discoveries help develop society. (Wagner, 2007).
However, there are negative aspects such as a need for continuing education as the professional life requires attending seminars and conferences. Secondly, there is a risk of injury as work in prisons includes communication with violent people. Teamwork may be another problem for some as they may prefer to work independently and in this area people are in constant co-operation with the courts, police and a vast number of other professionals. Also, the pay does not necessarily compensate for the long work hours and stress-load. (Wagner, 2007).
In conclusion, despite the drawbacks previously stated, a career in forensic psychology is an interesting path to pursue that allows for the utilization of a myriad of skills. The advantages are numerous and there is much activity in the area of psychology. Today, forensic psychology experiences solid growth; and one can be fully confident that research work, consultation, and clinical practice in psychology and the law will continue to expand. Also, although the monetary return does not match the workload, there is a great sense of job satisfaction in helping better society within the framework of forensic psychology.
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Pinizzotto, A.J. (2003). An Interesting Career in Psychology: Forensic Psychologist.
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