Saturday, August 23, 2014

Psychological Assessment in Forensic Psychology

In our next installment of the result of the blog survey, will be doing a blog post about the different jobs of the survey respondents. Majority are working in an industrial setting as HR personnel or managers, staff and various other positions;  in education setting, as teachers, instructors, counselors, psychometrician;  and clinics and hospitals as psychologists, physician, etc.; in the government, and a minority in the military and police.

It is interesting to note that military and the police are establishments or fields that are overlooked by many psychology graduates. Looking at the the PRC board exam for Criminologists a portion of the exam (15%) is about  Sociology of Crimes and Ethics particularly on the topics: Introduction to Criminology and Psychology of Crimes, Philippine Justice Systems, Ethics and Values, Juvenile Delinquency, Human Behavior and Crisis Management, Criminological Research and Statistics.

Those topics are so much appropriate as field of study for Psychology majors. Although in some schools especially in their graduate programs the course in Forensic Psychology is being offered. But I think even in undergraduate course it should already offered so Psych majors have more possible opportunities to explore and so they could consider work in the military and police. There should be convergence with courses and subjects in Criminology. Also with courses being made interdisciplinary, Psychology with its many possible applications should be made more interdisciplinary with other subjects such as Criminology, Forensic Psychology, Military Psychology, Sports Psychology, Health Psychology, School Psychology, Climate Psychology, Law, Social Work, etc.

Let's take a more closer look into Forensic Psychology this time.

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Thus, the practice of forensic psychology, and perhaps the most frequent duty of forensic psychologists, is the psychological assessment of individuals who are involved, in one way or another, with the legal system. Therefore, although it is necessary to have training in law and forensic psychology, the most important skills a forensic psychologist must possess are solid clinical skills. That is, skills like clinical assessment, interviewing, report writing, strong verbal communication skills (especially if an expert witness in court) and case presentation are all very important in setting the foundation of the practice of forensic psychology. With these skills forensic psychologists perform such tasks as threat assessment for schools, child custody evaluations, competency evaluations of criminal defendants and of the elderly, counseling services to victims of crime, death notification procedures, screening and selection of law enforcement applicants, the assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder and the delivery and evaluation of intervention and treatment programs for juvenile and adult offenders. The practice of forensic psychology involves investigations, research studies, assessments, consultation, the design and implementation of treatment programs and expert witness courtroom testimony.

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Forensic Psychology is the intersection between psychology and the justice system. It involves understanding fundamental legal principles, particularly with regard to expert witness testimony and the specific content area of concern (e.g., competence to stand trial, child custody and visitation, or workplace discrimination), as well as relevant jurisdictional considerations (e.g., in the United States, the definition of insanity in criminal trials differs from state to state) in order to be able to interact appropriately with judgesattorneys and other legal professionals. An important aspect of forensic psychology is the ability to testify in court as an expert witness, reformulating psychological findings into the legal language of the courtroom, providing information to legal personnel in a way that can be understood.[1] Further, in order to be a credible witness the forensic psychologist must understand the philosophy, rules, and standards of the judicial system. Primary is an understanding of the adversarial system. There are also rules about hearsay evidence and most importantly, theexclusionary rule. Lack of a firm grasp of these procedures will result in the forensic psychologist losing credibility in the courtroom.[2] A forensic psychologist can be trained in clinicalsocialorganizational or any other branch of psychology.[3]
Generally, a forensic psychologist is designated as an expert in a particular area of expertise. The number of areas of expertise in which a forensic psychologist qualifies as an expert increases with experience and reputation. Forensic neuropsychologists are generally asked to appear as expert witnesses in court to discuss cases that involve issues with the brain or brain damage. They may also deal with issues of whether a person is legally competent to stand trial.
Questions asked by the court of a forensic psychologist are generally not questions regarding psychology but are legal questions and the response must be in language the court understands. For example, a forensic psychologist is frequently appointed by the court to assess a defendant's competence to stand trial. The court also frequently appoints a forensic psychologist to assess the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the offense. This is referred to as an evaluation of the defendant's sanity or insanity (which relates to criminal responsibility) at the time of the offense.[4] These are not primarily psychological questions but rather legal ones. Thus, a forensic psychologist must be able to translate psychological information into a legal framework.[5]
Forensic psychologists may be called on to provide sentencing recommendations, treatment recommendations or any other information the judge requests, such as information regarding mitigating factors, assessment of future risk and evaluation of witness credibility. Forensic psychology also involves training and evaluating police or other law enforcement personnel, providing law enforcement with criminal profiles and in other ways working with police departments. Forensic psychologists may work with any party and in criminal or family law. In the United States they may also help with jury selection.[6]

Photo: Andy Molloy/ Kennebec Journal/ AP Photo
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I recently came across this article from GQ that used forensic psychology to assess the mental state of the North Pond Hermit :
Chris had recently been given a mental-health evaluation by Maine's forensic service. The report mentioned a possible diagnosis of Asperger's disorder, a form of autism often marked by exceptional intelligence but extreme sensitivity to motions, sounds, and light.
The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit

To better appreciate this story go to the link to read the whole story.Below are interesting comments exchange about the difference of sociopath from Asperger Disorder based on the above article:

Having spent more than 30 years as a paramedic and wondering why people do certain unexplainable things, I have slowly come to realize that extraordinary social behavior has two roots.  One is the environment you grow up in, the other is an amazing array of mental illness.  
I have learned to recognize looks, behaviors and even facial clues to the causes of inexplicable behavior. Christopher Thomas Knight's look reminds me very much of sociopathic behavior
I suppose that is why I am writing a book titled "What I learned"  after more than 36,000 patient contacts.
Jeff Rusteen

@Calmedic Are you suggesting Christopher Knight is a sociopath? If so, I disagree with you for several reasons:
1. He was given a mental health evaluation while he was in jail and the only thing mentioned in the evaluation report was a possible diagnosis of Asperger's Disorder, which makes a lot more sense, given Christopher's high degree of intelligence. The loud and constant noise in jail after so many years of peace and quiet and being alone in the woods had to have been pretty terrifying. 
2. The lack of eye contact, nervous behavior and facial clues the author describes and what you see in the photos don't explain everything. Two people may not see the same thing or interpret a description in the same way. What I see is fear - a very deep fear within a man who was perfectly happy to live without interaction with other humans for decades, then incarcerated and forced to live in a cell surrounded by other inmates and guards all of the time.
3. Sociopaths generally act with complete disregard for the laws which govern society and feel no guilt, remorse or sympathy for people affected by their actions. Christopher Knight expressed regret for having "screwed over" his brother Joel and stated that he still "owes him."  He didn't steal for profit or for the adrenaline rush; he only stole what he needed in order to survive and he was extremely cautious and methodical in the way he did it. Sociopaths don't plan their crimes, they act spontaneously.
4. Sociopaths are usually well-liked by others, but will usually allow only one or maybe two people become "close" to them. Christopher chose to abandon and avoid human companionship completely at all costs. He never felt like he "fit in" and didn't have friends.

Your book may well be based on your actual patient contact experiences and apply to patients you have encountered in CA, but you can't reasonably or accurately use what you learned from those experiences and apply it to someone you've only read about, anymore than your paramedic training and experiences qualify you to diagnose mental illnesses or autism.

We hope that with this blog post, future Psychometricians will have more options as to which field to engage and explore. Also a clarification on the difference of sociopath from one who is diagnose with Asperger syndrome.

Next blog post will be the survey result of the work or job that our survey respondents are engage in.