Forensic Psychology and Clinical Psychology
There is a rule in the ethics of the practice of psychology that emphasizes “if you treat don’t testify, and if you testify don’t treat”. It is typical for me, in my role as a clinical psychologist, to receive a referral from a client having a difficult time with his or her child or spouse who wants me to not only treat them but to testify in court. They fail to see the differences in roles of a clinical psychologist and a forensic psychologist as do many lawyers. A clinical psychologist is an advocate for the client, irrespective of the client’s legal issues. On the other hand, forensic psychologists work for either the court or a lawyer. The client is not the plaintiff or the defendant. Clinical psychologists treat and/or assess the client under rules of strict confidentiality. No one obtains knowledge about the client without the written permission of the client. The forensic psychologist informs the client that the psychological assessments and test results are not confidential and will be shared with the court.
There are many forensic psychologists that are asked to treat the individual they are assessing. This is against ethical guidelines because it calls into question the objectivity of the forensic work that has been done.
Many clinical psychologists are asked to testify in court on behalf of their client. This is a potentially dangerous thing to do because it can effect the therapeutic relationship. If the clinician isn’t viewed as a vigorous enough advocate or misinterprets what is expected by the client, the client can be disappointed. Disappointment may affect the trust placed in the clinician and consequently effect the success of the therapist. Indeed, when I see marital couples, I ask them to sign a form that states I will not testify in court about their marital therapy.
In summation, while it is true that an excellent forensic psychologist must also be an excellent clinical psychologist, the professional not perform both roles with the same individual. Exceptions include the rare instance in which the client’s safety and well-being are threatened such as sexual and physical abuse.
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