Forensic Psychology and Clinical Psychology

There is an old saying in psychology that  “if you treat don’t testify, and if you testify don’t treat”. It is typical for me to receive a referral from a client having a difficult time with his or her child or spouse and wants me to treat them and to testify in court. They fail to see the differences in roles of a clinical psychologist and a forensic psychologist. A clinical psychologist is an advocate for the client, irrespective of the client’s legal issue. On the other hand, forensic psychologists work for the Trier at fact of gathering information so that the judge can make a valid decision.  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 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 affect the therapeutic relationship. If the clinician isn’t strong enough in his/her testimony or misinterprets what is expected, the client can be disappointed. And if they are disappointed they can decide that the therapist is not really on their side. Indeed, when I see marital couples, I have them sign a form that states I will not testify in court about their marital therapy. While it is true that an excellent forensic psychologist must also be an excellent clinical psychologist, they should not perform both roles with the same individual.

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