What is forensic psychology? When my students arrived for their first lecture, I would always start by giving them 10 minutes to write down an answer to this question. (Before reading on, why not jot down your answer).
I did this because despite the fact every undergraduate psychology student chose to do the course, not one of them came to see me in advance to ask what is was about.
Now bear inmind students chose their courses well in advance of the start date, and to make an informed choice they were strongly advised to speak to the lecturer running the courses they were interested in. So why they no show?
I can't hear a thing!
I suspect, actually I know because I discussed it with the students afterwards, that they didn't feel they had to ask what is forensic psychology, becausethey already had a preconceived idea of what it's all about.
I mentioned that at the start of the first lecture I would give students 10 minutes to write down an answer to the question what is forensic psychology.
What I didn't mention, however, is that after about 2 minutes I would ask for their attention and apologize for forgetting to tell them that they weren't allowed to use the wordsserial killers, cracker or silence of the lambs in their answer.
It was usually as this point that most of the writing in the lecture theatre stopped. If you're thinking I would have stopped writing as well, please contain your disappointment and don't rush off just yet.
The answer to the question, what is forensic psychology may not quite be what you thought, but that doesn't mean that the subjecthas to be any less engaging.
The first thing to appreciate when addressing the question, what is forensic psychology, is that even psychologists in the field are divided as to what the answer is.
Gudjonsson and Haward note that the division of criminological and legal psychology within the British Psychological Society argued for twenty years as to whether their members should be entitled to callthemselves Chartered Forensic Psychologists. It was finally agreed that they should, however, there still remains a great deal of debate and controversy surrounding the issue.
So what was the problem?
The central problem was that its members were drawn from a wide range of disciplines (see below), so it has always been and still remains difficult to state what the boundaries are whenaddressing the question what is Forensic Psychology.
A fragmented discipline?
Psychologists in the prison/correctional services.
Clinical psychologists in special hospitals & the psychiatric services. Educational psychologists
Occupational psychologists & Academics.
Now while it is important to acknowledge that this fragmentation of role exists, it is just as important to realise that these differentgroups are linked to forensic psychology because their work, expert knowledge or research activity is somehow connected with the law.
This legal connection makes perfect sense when you consider that the word forensic comes from the Latin forensis, which literally means appertaining to the forum, specifically the imperial court of Rome. So in essence:
The debate as to what is forensic psychologyand what is not forensic psychology rests primarily on the nature of psychology’s relationship with the legal system.
Let me give you an example, imagine 2 clinical psychologists meet at a conference and they begin talking about the work they do.
The first psychologist tells the second that she recently gave expert testimony in court arguing that the defendant in a murder case was criminallyinsane.
The judge and jury agreed and having been found guilty on the grounds of diminished responsibility the defendant was going to be sent to a secure psychiatric unit.
Now there’s a coincidence the second psychologist says I work in the unit where they're sending him, so I’ll be dealing and treating this guy when he arrives.
So here you have a situation where 2 psychologists are linked to...
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