Ethics and professional conduct in forensic psychology: the code that governs experts

As in all branches of behavioral science, forensic psychology also has a code of ethical standards.

With this article, we will be able to deepen some of the most important concepts that any forensic psychologist must respect during the exercise of his activity in order not to come into confrontation with the ethics of this field.

    The importance of ethics and professional conduct in forensic psychology

    All the disciplines dedicated to health must be governed by very clear rules concerning the ethics of the action of professionals. This is the case, for example, with medicine and of course with psychology. More precisely, we will talk about the importance of ethics and professional conduct in forensic psychology, one of the branches of this science which is devoted to its most legal part.

    Forensic psychologists, among others, perform expert reports to advise a judge on the psychological foundations of different actions or situations.

    Such a delicate task, which involves not only the intervention of a health science like psychology, but court decisions that can restrict an individual’s freedom, or entrust the custody of a child to one side. or on the other hand, they must be carried out with extreme caution, and always within an ethical framework which can in no case be exceeded, in order to have the maximum guarantees that the psychological action is carried out with the greatest objectivity. possible and without violating a single right of the persons concerned.

    To achieve this goal, there are codes of ethics that apply to all psychological practice in general, but there are also others that are specific to the medico-legal side of this discipline, and which propose a set of guidelines for preparing expert reports to ensure that no ethical criteria are violated. Below, we will examine a few and take examples to illustrate the best practices to be implemented in order to respect ethics and professional conduct in forensic psychology.

      General ethics in psychology

      Again there are ethics manuals at national level, such as the Code of Ethics of the General Council of Official Colleges of Psychologists, and even European onesLike the metacode of ethics of the European Federation of Associations of Psychologists, it is also true that each official association of individual autonomous communities in Spain is responsible for the implementation of the guidelines that should govern the actions of collegiate psychologists. in this territory.

      In this case, we will take as reference those of the Official College of Psychology of Madrid. In this case, the first document we find is that of ethics and deontology in psychological practice.

      The interesting thing about this guide is that in its introduction it explains that it is presented as a response to a series of studies that analyzed the impact of various issues that can lead to a lack of ethics in everyday life. activity of different psychologists. in several branches of the profession. So, it became necessary to establish a uniqueness of the criteria to avoid those situations in which, perhaps due to ignorance, it was not acted in the most correct way.

      Ethics and professional conduct in forensic psychology can also be seen in this manual, as it has a specific section in which issues in this area are discussed. One of the characteristics of the forensic discipline compared to other branches of psychology is that in this, in general, the psychologist works with people who do not want to be there of their own accord, but the relationship is imposed by the legal process in which they are immersed and this makes the position of the psychologist particularly delicate.

      It’s no surprise, then, that the field of legal psychology (where forensic pathology is included) is the group that receives the most alleged malpractice complaints at East Official College. This does not mean that all of them involve the opening of disciplinary proceedings, because in most cases it is shown that the complaint is not appropriate and is therefore dismissed. But this is a sample of the extreme delicacy of this area and the implications that poor performance can have.

      The data shows that the field of forensic psychology receives more than 25% of the total complaints addressed to psychology professionals in general. Of this amount, more than half is filed without the need for an investigation, as there is no indication of professional misconduct. Among the others, only a few, 7% of the total number of complaints lodged, trigger the opening of disciplinary proceedings. A really low figure for the total number of interventions carried out in this area.

      Good practice guides in forensic psychology

      After further examples of documents published by the Official College of Psychology of Madrid to establish unified guidelines for action in terms of ethics and deontology in forensic psychology, we will dwell on some of the most important to find out his utility.

      Custody and regime of visits to minors

      If the practice of expert psychology is already extremely delicate, when it comes to decisions concerning minors, we speak of even more sensitive cases. For this reason, the Madrid COP decided to publish the Guide to Good Practice for the Preparation of Expert Psychological Reports on the Custody and Visiting Regime of Minors.

      After the approval of the Divorce Law, the problem of custody was a constant, and the figure of the expert psychologist is essential to advise the judge on the most favorable option for the child, once all the possibilities .

      And it is this, the best interests of the child is the fundamental pillar of ethics and deontology in forensic psychology in this field. One of the maxims that will govern these actions is that the psychologist assesses the whole family group, As it is not possible to draw reasonable conclusions if only the custody conditions of one of the parents or guardians have been studied. The evaluation, moreover, must always be done on the basis of objective criteria, of course.

      It is equally important that all family members know the purpose of the assessment process they are undergoing and must give their express consent. The psychologist must also inform both parents or guardians of the techniques to be applied to minors, and if one of them objects to it, he must immediately stop the proceedings, unless there is a court order for prosecution.

      If the previous point was already extremely delicate work, it is even more so when it comes to ethics and deontology in forensic psychology in cases of child custody and visitation regime for victims. of gender violence. The sensitivity of these cases will, where appropriate, be even greater, so that the expert psychologist must take extreme precautions and protect the best interests of the child at all costs, Which is the general law that governs any action involving work with minors.

      Risk of violence against women

      The other area in which the most delicate cases occur in forensic psychology, and which we have already advanced in the previous point, is that of cases of violence against women. To have the best knowledge on how to act, the Madrid COP has prepared the Guide to good practice for the medico-psychological assessment of violence against women in relationships (VCMP).

      The figure of the forensic psychologist in this area is of vital importance, as he will become the judge’s advisor and was one of the professionals to assess whether a situation of violence against women occurs, and in this case, what type it is, what its repercussions may be and the possible risks. This is, of course, an extremely complicated task and must be carried out under very strict protocols which guarantee maximum ethics throughout the process.

      The psychologist must clearly explain to those involved in the forensic assessment what their function is: advise the judge in a very specific field, that of psychology, within the situation to be judged, so that he has all the information on the table before making a decision. And it is that, always, it is the judge who is responsible for dictating the sentence and deciding. Psychology experts are just advisers who provide very valuable information to make this decision to the fullest. possible goal.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bartolomé, A., Chacón, F., García, JF, García, A., Gómez, MR, Gómez, R., Vázquez, B. (2013). Guide to good practice for the preparation of expert psychological reports on the custody and visits of minors adapted to cases of gender violence. Official College of Psychologists of Madrid.
      • Chacón, F., García, JF, García, A., Gómez, MR, Vázquez, B. (2009). Guide to good practices for the preparation of expert psychological reports on the custody and visitation regime of minors. Official College of Psychologists of Madrid.
      • COP Madrid (2011). Ethics and deontology in psychological practice. Official College of Psychologists of Madrid.
      • Gómez, MR, Muñoz, JM, Vázquez, B., Gómez, R., Mateos, N. (2012). Guide to good practices for the medico-psychological assessment of the risk of violence against women in relationships (VCMP). Official College of Psychologists of Madrid.

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