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Forensic Psychology Subspecialties

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The definition for forensic psychology varies according to different sources, generally the description relates to a relationship involving human behavior and the criminal justice system. Applying and practicing forensic psychology in the legal or criminal justice system according to the law is the realistic definition (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). Forensic psychology incorporates many subspecialties which permits the psychologist to select a specific area of concentration and education. These subspecialties include criminal, investigative, police, juvenile, correctional and civil. Forensic psychology involves many functions such as courtroom testimony, evaluations of family and children for custody cases, screening of applicants for police departments, counseling victims and providing services for correctional facilities (Bartol & Bartol 2012). The purpose of this paper is to discuss ethics, dilemmas and controversies which the forensic psychologist may encounter.

Criminal Psychology Subspecialty

Major Roles

Studying the behavior and intentions of criminals also the behavioral patterns exhibited is the primary role of the criminal psychologists. There are other responsibilities and roles involving the criminal and his or her behavior but the primary purpose is studying those committing crimes. Criminal psychologists assess the competency of the criminal to stand trial or to assess the risk of the criminal to return to the legal system once released as well as offering expert testimony for court cases. It is crucial for the forensic psychologist to educate his or herself with the state and federal laws that relate to criminal and mental health behavior.

Seminal Case Influence

Barefoot vs. Estelle, 463 U.S . 880 (1983) relates to the Supreme Court case and how the justices ruled in the use of an expert mental health witness testimony and the prediction of future behavior by the accused (Open Jurist, n.d.). The ruling stated that it is appropriate for mental health professional with appropriate credentials and education provides testimony relating to assessments and evaluations of individual mental health history, psychological ethics and other pertinent information that is clear and concise (Open Jurist, n.d.).Thomas Barefoot had burned a bar and then murdered a police officer and was charged for murder and arson. Barefoot exhibited extremely dangerous behavior which the community was alarmed with during commission of these crimes believing the death penalty was an appropriate sentence (Public Health Laws Articles, 1995). The petitioner, Barefoot was convicted by a Texas jury of capital murder and in a separate hearing the same jury decided the death penalty should be imposed. The jury deliberated on a question submitted that related to the probability of the petitioner committing further acts of violence and the threat of criminal behavior to society (Public Health Law Articles,. 1995). The state called two psychologists to provide professional responses to questions about the probability of recurring behavior from the accused which they presented to the court their opinions relating to the hypothetical questions (Open Jurist, n.d.).The issue that sent the case to the Supreme Court was the use of a hypothetical question and the answer of the two psychologists.

Ethical Dilemmas

The American Psychological Association (APA) has guidelines that address ethical dilemmas and psychologists are mandated to follow these guidelines. Following these guidelines will help in the avoidance of dilemmas ethical or otherwise. These types of problems encourage psychologists to do all that they can do to not become entwined in unethical problems however it is not always possible to avoid ethical dilemmas. The APA provides guidance relating to the importance of an expert witness and what they should be aware of relating to preparation for a court appearance. The psychologist should educate his or herself in the laws pertaining to state they will be testifying in. It is extremely important to know the laws pertaining to the case they will be involved in. Confidentiality is another area relating to ethical dilemmas that psychologist encounter and it is a common issue one which sometimes is unavoidable. When a criminal psychologist is working with an individual who is not a patient by choice they sometimes fail to follow the confidentiality rules when they are doing evaluations. The psychologist must supply clear and concise information relating to the case and always protect confidentiality even when doing evaluations. Violating confidentiality is a serious error and it violates ethics guidelines of the APA and reflects badly on the psychologist. Malingering is an ethical dilemma

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