Forensic psychology: definition and functions of the forensic psychologist

As we have explained in other articles, Psychology is the science that studies human behavior and mental processes in the broad sense. These mental processes are the genesis of behavior: our thinking eventually materializes in certain tangible and observable motivations, attitudes and behaviors.

Forensic psychology: one of the fields of psychology

But what is forensic psychology? The term forensic comes from the Latin forum. That is to say the square, the public space where public trials took place in Roman times.

Therefore, forensic psychology is the branch of psychology that studies and intervenes in judicial processes in order to provide data and knowledge to help resolve cases. Forensic psychologists are forensic psychologists and their role is to collect, study and correctly interpret the various psychological data that can provide important elements in the face of a trial.

The functions and skills of forensic psychologists

Professionals in forensic psychology, in addition to having degrees in psychology, must have their own knowledge and tools of judicial, procedural and criminal law. This allows them to have the necessary background to be able to understand precisely the judicial processes and to correctly apply the psychological techniques in this field.

Forensic psychologists work with lawyers, experts, prosecutors and judges. In fact, forensic psychologists act as experts by offering their professional testimony in certain trials, Provide data and knowledge useful for working with justice and for ensuring that the circumstances of the case can be clarified, at least with regard to certain psychological and / or psychopathological aspects of some or all of the parties involved .

A professional in psychology, but also an expert in law

A forensic psychologist is not simply a psychologist who performs certain tasks in a state administration of justice. In reality, he is a great dominator of all the concepts, norms and dynamics of the legal system in which he finds himself.

The forensic psychologist has a broad understanding of all legal and procedural mechanisms. Indeed, if this were not so, he could easily be excluded from certain processes in which he participated by having lost the credibility of the various actors involved in the trial. The judicial system is a formal system in which methods and procedures are of paramount importance. For this reason, the forensic psychologist, in addition to being an expert in his field, must know and adapt perfectly to these regulations.

    What are the functions of a forensic psychologist before the courts?

    There are many elements and factors in which forensic psychology plays a key role in the context of a forensic process. In order to help the judge make the right decisions, the forensic psychologist provides the case with a series of knowledge and tools.

    One of the most common features refers to the study conducted by forensic psychologists on mental faculties and psychological conditions. of one of the parties involved in a trial (accused, informers and even witnesses). This analysis helps to elucidate, in the case of the accused, whether they were fully utilizing their mental faculties when they allegedly committed a crime. For example, if there is a homicide accused, a forensic psychologist would have the ability to make a report as to whether, at the time of the crime, the accused was aware of his actions.

    The training of a forensic psychologist

    We talked about what forensic psychology is and also about the tasks that forensic psychology professionals do. However: What training does a forensic psychologist need to be able to practice?

    This point is more complicated to explain, as each country has different legislation regarding the academic background that these types of professionals need. In general, it can be said that in order to devote himself to forensic psychology, the professional must have a diploma or bachelor’s degree in psychology, and then specialize in one of these branches: organizational psychology, psychology, psychology. social or clinical, the latter being particularly relevant.

    after, must have a postgraduate degree or master’s degree in forensic psychology. However, it is of particular interest that the forensic psychologist has extensive knowledge in the field of psychological assessment, psychopathologies, and diagnostic and intervention techniques. As the forensic psychologist must help determine whether the accused has a mental disorder or not, some of his job resembles that of a clinical psychologist, although in this case his interests and those of the person being assessed do not generally match. not.

    Function in penal and remedial measures

    In addition to what has been said, forensic psychology also has some influence in informing and suggesting the type of treatment that a person sentenced to prison should go through. like that, the judge may have more elements in deciding how to carry out the sentence and what corrective measures will be imposed.

    Forensic psychology collaborates and describes, but does not judge

    One point should be emphasized: forensic psychology can help a judge determine certain psychological factors of the parties involved in a lawsuit; it can explain a person’s behavior to make it more understandable that they have been a victim or aggressor in certain circumstances. This information is provided to the court so that it can be able to make a balanced decision on the facts.

    however, the forensic psychologist is not authorized to defend or act as a prosecutor for any of the parties involved in a lawsuit. Its function is descriptive and informative, and must therefore be completely neutral.

    Courts often ask very specific questions of the forensic psychologist, always linked to the case being tried and to the various psychological variables that may have influenced the facts. The terminology used by the various legal actors is that of the legal field, etc. the forensic psychologist is also expected to stick to language that is unambiguous and consistent with the context.

    In other words, the different actors involved in the judicial process (judge, lawyers, prosecutors and jury) need to know the direct effects of the psychological state of one of the people involved to determine to what extent they are responsible. of their actions. In this sense, it should be specified that it would make no sense for the forensic psychologist to digressions on the mental state of one of the attempted parties beyond the task entrusted to him, which is shed light on the psychological situation of the parties involved during events which are judged, and by extension of the treatment to be given to one of the parties, if applicable.

    Guilt, responsibility, exemptions …

    Forensic psychologists are often the subject of controversy. Indeed, as professionals in the legal field, they have the power to influence the decisions of the courts. For example, forensic psychologists may emphasize the advisability of acquitting an accused person of guilt by arguing that at the time of the facts he was not aware of his actions. Therefore, they have the possibility of freeing an individual, even if he may have been the material perpetrator of a crime.

    Forensic psychologists may also advise that aggravating or mitigating factors be applied to certain crimes, which indications may affect the sentence imposed on the accused.

    These functions always lead to great controversy. For example, in the case of an accused who has murdered a child, if he is found not responsible for clinical (psychiatric) reasons, the family of the murdered minor may become angry at this decision, even if they have motives. strict clinics.

    However, and while it can generate all kinds of social debate, the truth is that forensic psychology is decisive in the fact that justice can be done in a balanced and fair manner, if the redundancy allows me.

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