7.05.2013

What Is Forensic Psychology

In recent years forensic psychology and related topics such as criminal profiling have been the subject of a whole host of books, films and television series. While this has undoubtedly raised the profile of forensic psychology, the subject has often been presented in a distorted, sensationalised and inaccurate way.

With this very much in mind, this article outlines what you need to be aware of in order to provide a satisfactory answer to the question, 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 the question what is forensic psychology? Before reading on, why not quickly write down what you think forensic psychology is.

The reason I did this was because despite the fact that every single undergraduate psychology student (about 180 of them) chose to do the forensic psychology course, not one of them came to see me in advance to ask what the course was about. Now bear in mind students chose their optional courses well in advance of the start date, and in order to make an informed choice they were all strongly advised to speak to the lecturer running the courses they were interested in before making a final decision.

So why the no show?

I suspect, actually I know because I discussed it with the students afterwards, that they didn't feel they had to find out what forensic psychology is, because they already had a preconceived idea.

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 apologise for forgetting to tell them that they weren't allowed to use the words serial killers 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 subject has to be any less engaging.

The first thing to appreciate when addressing the question is that even psychologists in the field are divided as to what the answer is. 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 call themselves Chartered Forensic Psychologists. It was finally agreed that they should, however, there still remains a great deal of debate and controversy surrounding the issue.

The central problem is that its members are drawn from a wide range of disciplines, so it is always difficult to state what the boundaries are when you talk of 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 different groups 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 and what isn





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